Curve moves into third place sweeps Harrisburg over weekend

Get out the brooms! The Altoona Curve rebounded from a pair of lackluster games with lowly Erie to post three wins over the weekend against Harrisburg, their nearest competitor for a spot in the Eastern League playoffs at the conclusion of the regular season.
Sunday’s 10-4 Curve win moves the Curve past Harrisburg in the Southern Division standings and sets the tone for a four-game series with the second place Reading Phillies, who edged Erie 7-6 to remain two games ahead of Altoona in the fight for the second playoff berth.
The Curve set several franchise records with the weekend sweep. The Sunday triumph gives Altoona a 65-55 mark for the season, the first time in the four-year history of the club it has been 10 games over .500. A record crowd of 8,452 saw J. R. House celebrate his return from the Disabled List. Out since April 20, House delivered with a bases clearing double that climaxed a 7-6 come-from-behind win on Saturday night.
“Going down to the last 20 games of the year, when we are down like that (6-4 going into their final at bat),” said Curve manager Dale Sveum, “we will be able to look back to last night and say ‘Hey, it’s not out of the question.’ There is always a turning point in the season. Hopefully last night was it. But we obviously have been playing very good baseball over the last six weeks. The ball is in our hands now.”
Other records set were total attendance for a three-game total of 21,816 for the three-game set against Harrisburg, which included 6,097 for the Sunday afternoon contest, and 40,106 for the seven game homestand.
Altoona jumped out to a big lead early on Sunday to make it easy for starting pitcher John Grabow, who continues to improve. The Pittsburgh Pirates Double-A affiliate scored three times in each of the first two frames and added a solo home run from J. J. Davis in the third combined with a near-perfect pitching start from Grabow to take a 7-0 advantage after three innings.
Tony Alvarez opened the Altoona first with a single to center. Shawn Skrehot moved him up a base with a sacrifice bunt and Kevin Sefcik walked. A wild pitch put runners at the corners. Carlos Rivera, who had four hits in five trips in Saturday’s ballgame, singled up the middle to score Alvarez with the first run of the game. Shawn Garrett’s single to left plated Sefcik and Davis completed the inning with an RBI groundout that scored Rivera.
“I think when you lose a game like Harrisburg did last night, you are either going to come out fired up or flat,” explained Shawn Garrett about the Curve’s quick lead on Sunday. “We jumped on them early and it just kind of seemed like we were in control from there on out. This game is a lot mental and if you have any kind of ledge over somebody like that its going to help you.”
In the second, John Pachot singled and Grabow sacrificed him to second. Alvarez unloaded a shot that carried over both fences and onto the grass, that with the lack of rain is now quite brown beyond left field to increase the Curve lead to 5-0. Sefcik and Rivera followed with two-out back-to-back doubles to score the third tally of the inning.
“The way we feel right now, we can make it,” said Tony Alvarez. “We have a lot of people who hit, Carlos Rivera, Shawn Garrett, J. J. Davis, Kevin Sefcik, J. R. House, not just Tony Alvarez but the whole team.”
Grabow allowed just one walk over the first three innings, setting down nine of the first 10 Harrisburg batters. The Curve lefty won for the fourth straight time to improve his record to 8-10, following a 1-7 start. Over Grabow’s last four starts, John is 4-0 with a 1.79 ERA. 24 strikeouts and four walks.
“We had a huge lead,” said Grabow. “I was just trying to go out there and throw strikes. I wanted to throw a lot of fastballs and stay within myself. I just hope I can keep it going, especially now that we are in the playoff race. It’s good to finish strong. Everyone is playing well and we are hitting the ball. It’s a good time to get hot.”
Grabow tossed seven complete innings Sunday, allowing one run on four hits, fanning four and walking three.
The Curve scored three times in the eighth to put the game away. J. R. House drew a pinch walk to start the inning. Alvarez singled for his third hit of the contest and with one out Sefcik, who extended his hitting streak to 14 games, singled home House. Rivera, who had three more hits, drove in Alvarez with a grounder to first. Shawn Garrett, who had a pair of singles, walked and Davis scored Sefcik with a single to center.
Harrisburg scored a run in the eighth off reliever Adrian Burnside on a a pair of walks and a ground rule double by Brett Roneberg. Both Burnside and Roneberg are natives of thge far-away continent of Australia.
The Senators completed the scoring with two more runs in the top of the ninth on a two-run pinch-hit home run by Jason Brown off pitcher Matt Montgomery. A former Curve catcher, Brown, who was hitting just .170 in 18 games at Altoona before being sent down to Single-A Lynchburg earlier this season and then was involved in a trade that bumped him to Harrisburg. Brown also belted a two-run dinger in Saturday’s game that temporarily gave the Senators a 6-4 lead.
The Curve has 21 ballgames remaining, including seven against Reading and four with Harrisburg, so their fate is in their own hands. Akron has all but clinched the top spot in the division with a 79-42 record entering play on Sunday. The second playoff spot will be decided between Altoona, Harrisburg and Reading.
“We will go into Reading thinking sweep,” said Sveum. “But our main objective is ‘one game at a time.’ We have to play tomorrow before we can think about the next day. We will do everything we can to win tomorrow, do whatever it takes. You have to manage like there is no tomorrow every game from here on out. If you have to bring your closer in to make sure you win, then you do it and worry about the next day when it comes. Basically, as I’ve said before, it’s like a 20-game World Series for us. We probably have to win 15 of the 20 games to have a chance. It’s all up to us now. We put ourselves in this situation with an unbelievable comeback over the last month or so. Hopefully we can finish it off.”
David Kaup of Tyrone sang the National Anthem prior to the beginning of Sunday’s ballgame. Curve General Manager Todd Parnell led the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch dressed in a “Baby Huey” diaper for a good cause. Parnell challenged the crowd to raise $500 for the GM to perform in conjunction with the “March of Dimes fund raiser. Overall during the fundraiser took in over $6,000.