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Curve extends win streak to seven with 13 inning triumph

The Altoona Curve has been a streaky team for portions of the 2003 Eastern League schedule. The Pittsburgh Pirates Double-A affiliate earlier lost 11 straight games at home. In the early going, many of the Curve players looked forward to leaving Blair County Ballpark, rather than welcome returning there.
During that same period of time, pitching prevailed for the Curve, both starting pitching and relief from the bullpen, while hitting dragged along at less than two runs per game.
The Altoona 13-inning 8-7 win on Thursday night showed that confidence is high at home now and hitting and pitching are combining for what should be one heck of a run through the remainder of the Southern Division schedule for Altoona. The Curve has climbed back to .500 at home with a 15-15 mark despite the long home losing streak
Altoona blew leads of 3-0 and 7-4 but was still able to take advantage of some shoddy play to pull out the win.
In the 13th, Curve manager Dale Sveum allowed relief pitcher Rick Palma to bat for himself.
“Of all people to lead off with a single and score the winning run,” laughed Sveum, “the odds of that happening must be a million to one. Especially when the communication gap gets broken. He was supposed to take a strike.”
Palma, just off the disabled list, stroked the first pitched to left for a solid single. Shawn Garrett worked a base on balls to put runners at first and second. The scoring opportunity seemed to wane there however when Jose Castillo popped up to short right and Chan Perry rolled what looked like a perfect double play ball to Albenis Muchado. The Harrisburg shortstop bobbled the ball and everybody was safe, loading the bases. The Senators dodged a bullet when Ray Navarrete popped up to first baseman Glen Davis in foul territory for the second out. Fortune smiled on the Curve when Shaun Skrehot walked on a full count to force in Palma with the winning run.
“It’s been unreal, we won in Harrisburg last Sunday in a game we had no business to win as bad as we played,” said Sveum. “We have a lot of resilience and its obviously coming out now. The key is to stay in ballgames so you are able to comeback and that’s what we have been doing. Now we are getting the breaks and winning a lot of those tight ball games. That turns into big long winning streaks.”
The Curve won for a franchise record seventh straight time to improve to 39-31 and have been involved in 13 extra-inning games, including eight at Blair County Ballpark.
Pitchers figured prominently in the Curve offense on Thursday. Not only did Palma contribute, but starting pitcher Landon Jacobsen drove in a run in the third inning with his first hit as a professional.
The Curve scored in the second inning when Chris Duffy doubled to deep centerfield to score Skrehot, who had walked with two outs. In the third inning, Kevin Nicholson walked with one out and went to third on a single to left by Shawn Garrett, who had a pair of singles and a double. Castillo drove in Nicholson with a sacrifice fly and Garrett scored on a double to left that bounced into the left field bleachers on one hop.
Curve catcher Chris Heintz tripled with two gone an inning later and Jacobsen followed with a single to left that plated Heintz to give Altoona a 4-1 lead.
Harrisburg pecked away at the Curve lead with one tally in the fourth, one in the fifth and two in the sixth to tie the score, but Altoona made good use of Harrisburg reliever Pat Collins to jump out into the lead again.
Duffy dropped a bunt down the third base line and beat it out for a single, then stole second and third and scored on a wild pitch. Nicholson singled and stole second, one of six stolen bases by the Curve, and came home on a double by Garrett. Jose Castillo completed the scoring with a base hit that scored Garrett, enabling the Curve right fielder to become the fifth best scorer in Curve history with a total of 112 runs scored.
Again the Senators came back to tie the game and send it into extra-innings.
All three of the Curve’s top bullpen artists were roughed up. Mike Johnston struck out the first batter he faced in the seventh, then walked two batters in a row. After an infield single by Jeremy Ware loaded the bases, Johnston unleashed a wild pitch to allow Noah Hall to score.
Jeff Bennett, who became engaged to his girlfriend on the pitching mound about a half hour after the game, allowed three singles in the eighth with Albenis Machado scoring on Halls base hit to cut the Curve lead to 7-6.
Glenn Davis belted a ninth-inning home run off Curve closer Todd Ozias to send the game to extra-innings, only the second of 13 save opportunities Ozias has failed on. Ozias regrouped to pitch three innings and hold the Senators until the fateful bottom of the 13th when Palma (3-1) scored to give himself the win.
“We are playing more together,” said Duffy. “We are now doing the little things we need to do to win. A lot of the games that we have won in the seven game win streak have been close games that go down to execution and we have been getting it done. We are gaining more confidence in our teammates and it is paying off.”