Curve starter Bryan Morris didn't have his best stuff in the first inning of Wednesday's game. Neither did Portland's Jeremy Kehrt.
But when the dust had settled from the slow-paced, 30-minute frame, it was Morris who had composed himself to limit the damage and Kehrt who couldn't do the same.
After getting hit hard for a run by the top of the Sea Dogs' order, Morris used a pair of strikeouts to strand two runners, and the Curve exploded off Kehrt in the bottom of the inning for four runs.
Morris settled down to dominate the Sea Dogs' offense, and Altoona rode the early three-run lead to its fifth straight win, an 8-1 victory Wednesday at Blair County Ballpark. The win puts the Curve at 47-24, giving them sole possession of the best record in all of professional baseball.
The first two batters Morris faced recorded hits, and the third flew out to the warning track in center field. But Morris made sure the Sea Dogs weren't as relaxed at the plate the rest of the night.
"I gave them a little bit of chin music," said Morris, who knocked down a couple of Portland hitters in his 6 2/3 innings. "I don't like doing that a whole lot, but whenever a team's battling you pretty good, you've got to put a little fear in them. They started out awful comfortable in the box."
Today: Portland at Altoona, noon
Pitchers: Curve RHP Jared Hughes (9-3, 3.70) vs. RHP Stephen Fife (4-1, 3.86)
After the first few hitters, the righty found a groove to strike out four while allowing six hits and the lone first-inning run.
In his last start, Morris allowed eight runs on 10 hits over five innings against Trenton. He responded Wednesday with his longest start as a member of the Curve.
"After last outing, this is a big game for me as a bounce-back game," Morris said. "Hopefully I can get back on track with this."
Morris pointed to the importance of going deep into ballgames to preserve the bullpen, but after a 22-pitch first inning, a quality start seemed unlikely.
"He was able to settle down," Curve manager Matt Walbeck said of Morris, who threw just seven pitches in a perfect second frame. "He had pretty good control of his breaking ball, and he got us through more than what we expected."
The Curve responded to Morris' lone run allowed immediately.
Matt Hague drilled a Kehrt pitch opposite field that one-hopped the wall. Two runs scored, and the Curve wouldn't relinquish the lead as Kehrt dropped to 1-3 with the loss.
"With second and third, I was looking for a pitch to drive to right field," Hague said. "I was basically just looking for the center of the plate. You don't want to roll anything over in that situation and not get that run in, so I was looking to drive it."
Hague scored just pitches later on a single by second baseman Jordy Mercer, and the Curve scored again in the frame on a passed ball by Portland catcher Luis Exposito.
"Bryan did a good job of controlling what they did in the first inning, and we wanted to go out there and score as many runs as we could to help him out a little," Hague said. "He pretty much took over the rest of the game."
Despite ominous skies throughout the entire contest, the game was never delayed. The two teams played through heavy rain in the middle innings that sent the majority of the 4,436 fans heading for the exits or cover in the main concourse.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Curve took a 6-1 lead on a Miles Durham's two-run home run to the grass behind the left field bleachers. It was his fourth of the season.
By then, the only thing stopping the Curve from clinching a series victory over Portland was making the game official. Morris breezed through the fifth to secure the win for Altoona.
"The four-spot helped, and Miles Durham's two-run homer was a nice little cushion there," Walbeck said. "With the rain and the way things were going, we weren't quite sure we were going to get it in. Fortunately we got through the fifth."
Key player: RHP Bryan Morris settled down after some early troubles to earn his fourth win with 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball.
Key play: 1B Matt Hague's first-inning double gave the Curve an early first-inning lead - one they wouldn't relinquish.
Key stat: The Curve's 47-24 record is the best in all of professional baseball.
How they scored
Top 1st: Spears doubled, scored on Hernandez error (0-1).
Bottom 1st: Hernandez singled, Harrison singled, both scored on Hague double (2-1); Hague scored on Mercer single (3-1); Gimenez doubled, scored on Exposito passed ball (4-1).
Bottom 4th: Presley walked, scored on Durham homer (6-1).
Bottom 6th: Gimenez homered (7-1); Presley doubled, scored on Rizzo error (8-1).