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Reading downs Curve 4-1 seventh straight win over Altoona

Reading knocked off Altoona 4-1 on Monday night to pretty much put the final nail in the Curve’s playoffs hopes. Altoona was just two games behind Reading in the race to claim the second Southern Division following the Curve’s last homestand. Then in on a seven-game, week-long road trip Altoona fell apart, losing four straight to the Phils in Reading, and then Akron, the top team in the division, thumped Altoona twice in three games over the weekend to drastically change the situation.
On Monday night, in the usually friendly confines of Blair County Ballpark, the Curve scored first to take a 1-0 lead after an inning, but couldn’t work the right combination again against Reading starter Greg Kubes. The Phils scored a pair of runs in each of the second and fifth innings to defeat Altoona 4-1 for the seventh straight time. Reading has won eight of nine and 10 of the last 12 contests between the two Pennsylvania foes.
“Realistically, with the schedule we have what, 14 more ballgames,” asked a still optimistic Curve manager Dale Sveum. “We have to win about 13 of them at least, probably to have any kind of chance. Reading has to play Harrisburg four, we play them four. They play Akron three, Harrisburg plays Akron three. Obviously, it is still in our hands, but we must win every game. Weirder things have happened.”
After Altoona starter Justin Reid put the Phils down in order in the first, J. R. House belted a one-out double to the right center field gap and scored on Kevin Sefcik’s soft liner into center to give the Curve a 1-0 lead.
It didn’t last long. Before a crowd of 5,967, Nate Espy led off the Reading second with his 14th home run of the year, his sixth against Curve pitching. With the score quickly tied, Troy McNaughton, hitting just .161 at game time doubled to the wall in left field and scored one batter later on a single by Brian Hitchcox for a 2-1 lead.
In the fifth, Reid hit Josue Perez to start the inning and Hitchcox followed with an infield single. Reid retired the next two batters on an infield out and a strikeout, but leadoff hitter, Jay Sitzman lined a two-out single to right to drive in both baserunners for a 4-1 advantage.
“They got the big hits when they needed them tonight,” said Sveum when trying to describe the hex Reading seems to have over the Curve. “They had some huge breaks and Reading against us seemed to get some hops here and there. Reid pitched a great game. Unfortunately Kubes pitched a better game. He really kept the ball in and out and down and away. He works very fast and we didn’t make any adjustments on him.”
Reid (10-7) allowed no hits in the six other innings he pitched, striking out seven and walking one. Kubes did even better. After Sefcik’s hit in the first, Kubes allowed another double by House in the third, retiring 18 of 19 before Shawn Garrett singled with one out in the seventh. Kubes then allowed an eighth-inning basehit by Shawn Skrehot. Kubes (13-6) struck out four and didn’t walk a batter. Brad Pautz pitched a perfect ninth to pick up his third save of the year. Rick Palma tossed the ninth for Altoona allowing no runs on one hit, one K and no walks.
Altoona has won 30 games more than they have lost when they scored first, but they have scored first against Reading in four straight games and lost all four.
“We just haven’t been able to make the pitches in key situations,” said Sveum. “Justin only made a few bad pitches out there tonight, but those were with men in scoring position and Reading took advantage.”
House, who has hot two three doubles and two home runs in the short time since he has been back with the team, coming off the disabled list during the last homestand is also perplexed about why Reading seems to have a jinx against the Curve.
“Tonight we just had some situations where Reading got some key hits with men on base and we didn’t,” explained House. “Justin Reid pitched a great game, but unfortunately we didn’t come out and swing the bats the way we needed to. I don’t know what the problem with Reading is for us. With me, it goes all the way back to Rookie League. Every team I’ve been on with the Pirates, it’s been hard to beat any Phillies team. I don’t know what the problem is, but they just seem to have our number.”
Former Penn State football player Adam Taliaferro threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the ballgame. Taliaferro suffered a spinal injury while attempting a tackle in a game on September 23, 2000 at Ohio State. He has since made a full recovery from his injuries.
Altoona and Reading play at Blair County Ballpark again tonight at 7:05 p.m. Mike Gonzalez (5-4,4,55 ERA) will be on the hill for the Curve, while REading will counter with Franklin Perez (3-1, 3,55).