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Portland Sea Dogs score late to defeat Altoona between rains

Wednesday was supposed to be the final School Children’s Special, but most of the kids had to leave before the game began or could watch only a couple innings before their buses had to head back to school. It was also scheduled as a doubleheader to catch up for the contest that was rained out on Tuesday night.
The one ballgame which was actually played started exactly two hours and 30 minutes late due to morning showers and time needed to get the field at Blair County Ballpark ready. Then the second game was first delayed and later canceled completely due to the newest next rain storm that poured down on the baseball field and the few scant fans still braving the elements.
In between the two rains, the Curve and Portland Sea Dogs did manage to get a seven-inning game in, although on the day, the only thing the Altoona Double-A franchise beat was the rain-and that was only temporary.
After leading early, the Curve saw Portland, the Eastern League’s Northern Division leader, score twice in the later innings to take a 2-1 victory and a 2-0 sweep in the rain-shortened series.
Tom Fordham, a lefty who has moved into the rotation from the Pirates Triple-A club in Nashville, to take over while Ben Shaffar recovers from a sore knee, pitched well, but once again had little run support from the Curve offense. Fordham, who had Tommy John surgery on his left elbow in late 2001 and didn’t pitch at all last year, had his longest outing of the season. Fordham tossed 4 1/3 innings, giving up just one run on seven hits with a season best seven strikeouts and just one walk.
“Our execution hasn’t been that great,” explained Fordham. “We are not going to hit a lot of home runs to put a lot of runs on the board. We have to be able to play small ball with the best of them. Hopefully we can be more consistent with that. Today was the strongest I have felt in awhile, coming off the surgery I had. The best I had gone was four innings last week. I was able to work in my fastball early and then go to my change, which has always been my bread and butter. In Nashville, it was kind of hit-and-miss. Some of those pitches would stay up in the zone and some would do what I wanted them to.
“Today, it seemed to be working pretty well. I kind of fell into a pattern and threw too many change-ups at the end. Fatigue probably played a part as well.”
Fordham yielded an inning-opening home run to Portland’s Dustin Brisson leading off the fifth. Tonayne Brown singled, but Fordham fanned Jeremy Owens for the first out. Jim Goelz and Carlos Leon singled sharply, to load the bases. Curve manager Dale Sveum brought in Neal McDade at that point. McDade induced Kevin Youkilis to hit into second-to-short-to first double play to get out of the inning.
“Tommy pitched a good game,” said Sveum. “He kept us in the game. He got to a pitch count that he hasn’t seen yet this year, so he even sucked up some extra pitches. (Fordham threw a total of 74 pitches, 47 of them for strikes.) Then Neal came in and got us out of that jam. He threw the ball well, just a couple of pitches got him in trouble. You have to give credit for their guy hitting a 3-2 change-up to drive in the winning run.”
McDade tossed a strong eighth inning, but took the loss (1-5). Brown opened the top of the ninth with a base hit up the middle. Owens moved Brown to second with a sacrifice bunt. With two outs, Leon, the designated hitter, who went three-for-three with a walk in four trips to the plate, doubled to score Brown with what proved to be the winning run.
Altoona scored a run in the second to take the early lead. With one out, Josh Bonifay walked and moved to second on a ground out by Ray Navarrete. Shaun Skrehot doubled into the right field corner to score Bonifay. Navarrete led the Altoona offense with a pair of singles.
The Curve had runners on in every inning except the third, but couldn’t get the timely hit when they needed one. The Sea Dogs supported right hander Junior Herndon (3-3), who tossed a compete game striking out two and walking two, on defense. The Sea Dogs played errorless ball and turned three double plays, including the final outs of the game in the bottom of the ninth on a shot up the middle by Skrehot, when Altoona had runners on the corners-the tying run just 90 feet from scoring. Altoona stranded runners in scoring position or failed to move them up with one out or less in six separate occasions.
The difference was immediately evident when Portland sacrificed the winning run to second base in the ninth. In the eighth inning, Kevin Nicholson opened the frame with a single. Jose Castillo attempted unsuccessfully to bunt Nicholson up to second, but eventually ended up hitting into a double play after missing two tries to bunt.
“There isn’t much to say, teams are outplaying us, said Sveum. “Everybody in the league is outplaying us. We have to do a better job of all the little things in the game we need to do to win games. We seem to be doing the things it takes to lose ballgames, whatever it might be-failing to get a bunt down, missing a sign. We are doing a lot of things that shouldn’t be happening in Double-A baseball. They are happening and it’s my fault as much as theirs. I’m obviously not doing my job, because these things keep happening over and over. I’ll take the blame. These guys are just young kids and I need to teach them better.”
The Curve has Thursday off before opening up a three-game series beginning Friday at 7:05 against Harrisburg at Blair County Ballpark.