The Curve have a good team, but not good enough to overcome the costly fundamental mistakes they make far too often in games.
A truly embarrassing one occurred Friday night and wound up playing a role in Altoona's 7-3 loss to Erie before 3,074 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
With one out and a runner on first in the fourth inning, Curve pitcher Casey Sadler struck out Daniel Fields looking. Sadler started to walk off the field like it was the third out, and catcher Carlos Paulino rolled the ball back to the mound.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
The Curve’s Gift Ngoepe tosses the ball to second baseman Jarek Cunningham for an out Friday night at PNG Field.
It was only the second out, though, and Erie's Jamie Johnson easily took second base. It was a 3-2 SeaWolves lead at that point, but the blunder cost the Curve as Hernan Perez followed with a single to bring home Johnson.
"That's unacceptable," Curve manager Carlos Garcia said.
"They have to be able to stay in the game," the manager added. "They have to be able in the mental side to stay consistent and focused."
Covering the bases
LEADING OFF: Altoona native and former NBA standout Johnny Moore threw out a ceremonial first pitch prior to Friday's game. Moore is in town to speak at a function tonight.
SAFE AT FIRST: Former Curve LHP Rudy Owens has a broken left foot that will require surgery and will keep him out of action for four to five months. Owens helped the Curve win the 2010 Eastern League championship and is now in the Astros organization. He's pitching for Triple-A Oklahoma City and is 0-3 with a 3.71 ERA. He's scheduled to undergo surgery Monday.
STEALING SECOND: The Curve received IF/OF Oscar Tejeda from Triple-A Indianapolis on Friday. Tejeda was hitting .091 (1-for-11) in five games at Indy. He pinch hit Friday and struck out.
ROUNDING THIRD: OF/1B Andrew Lambo extended his hitting streak to 11 games and on-base streak to all 21 games with a home run Friday.
HEADING HOME: RHP Jameson Taillon starts tonight for the Curve, looking to bounce back from a rough start Monday at Richmond when he allowed five runs in six innings.
- Cory Giger
The scoreboard, Sadler said, read two outs, which is what confused the pitcher and catcher.
"That's completely my fault," Sadler admitted. "Just mentally wasn't in the game at the moment. Regardless of whatever anybody says, you should always know the outs. You should never go off of the scoreboard, ever. It's very rarely right. That one's all on me. I should know the outs."
The Curve made more key mistakes in the bottom of the seventh inning when trailing, 4-3. Paulino led off with a triple to right, but he was stranded there with the potential tying run as Andy Vasquez, Gift Ngoepe and Matt Curry each struck out. Ngoepe tried a safety squeeze at one point but fouled off the bunt attempt for strike two.
The Curve are next to last in the Eastern League in strikeouts, and failing to come through in that fundamental situation cost them dearly in a one-run game.
"We didn't do a good job of executing with runners on," said Andrew Lambo, who homered in the sixth inning to pull the Curve within 4-3. "Third base, nobody out, we've got to execute, we've got to get him in. That's just the bottom line."
Lambo went on to add, "We've got a lot of young guys, and they're still understanding the game, it's the first month. It's a little bit faster game than A-ball and it only gets faster and faster from here. It doesn't slow down. So either you've got to slow the game down, or that's just the way it's going to be."
It's not really early in the season anymore, Garcia said, so fundamental mistakes can't be happening at this rate.
"At this point, it's 20 games into a season, you say you know what, we need a better focus in that situation," Garcia said. "We need to make contact. Our approach in that situation needs to be more consistent and execute."
Sadler (3-1) had a tough outing in losing for the first time in Double-A, giving up four runs - three earned - on eight hits in four innings. He took a comebacker off the left shin but said he was OK.
Erie scored a run in each of the first four innings off Sadler, then pulled away with two in the eighth and one in the ninth.
Had the Curve tied the game after the leadoff triple in the seventh, Garcia said, "It's a different ballgame."
Erie starter Victor Larez (3-0) allowed two runs in five innings for the win, and Matt Crouse pitched the final 2 2/3 innings for his first save.
"We're not getting smoked, we're not getting blown out, we're not getting shut out," Lambo said. "We've got a great team, we've got a lot of talent. We just need to understand the atmosphere of what's going on and what's the game plan."
SUBHD: Game recap
Key player: Erie SS Hernan Perez went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and a run.
Key play: The Curve got a leadoff triple from C Carlos Paulino in the seventh down a run but couldn't get him in to tie.
Key stat: There were only two outs, not three, when the Curve made a key mental mistake in the fourth that helped Erie score a run.
SUBHD: How they scored
Top 1st: Perez singled, scored on Cabrera triple (0-1).
Top 2nd: Johnson walked, scored on Lemon triple (0-2).
Top 3rd: Gaynor singled, scored on McCann single (0-3).
Bottom 3rd: Paulino walked, scored on Ngoepe triple (1-3); Curry single scored Ngoepe (2-3).
Top 4th: Johnson singled, scored on Perez single (2-4).
Bottom 6th: Lambo solo homer (3-4).
Top 8th: Johnson singled, scored on Fields single (3-5); Fields singled, scored on Perez single (3-6).
Top 9th: Gaynor doubled, scored on McCann sacrifice fly (3-7).