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Top of order helps Altoona Curve outlast Binghamton

Altoona hosted the Binghamton Mets in a 10:35 a.m. start in the second Kids Game of the season with lots of school children in the stands at Blair County Ballpark on Tuesday. A crowd of 5,207 watched the Curve prove to be almost too gracious a host. Five times the Pirates Double-A affiliate took the lead and five times, Binghamton came back. The difference in the Altoona 6-5 triumph was a two spot in the bottom of the eighth inning by the Curve. All the other runs in the game were scored one in an inning.
The top two hitters in the Curve order did most of the damage with seven hits, five runs scored and two RBIs between Chris Duffy and Kevin Nicholson. The rest of the Altoona lineup managed only five hits.
Altoona finally took a 6-4 when Curve closer Elio Serrano allowed one run in the top of the ninth, but limited the damage to just one to get the win for Neal McDade (1-0), who pitched an inning and 2/3 to pick up his first win of the year. McDade allowed one run on three hits with one strikeout and no walks. Serrano notched his fifth save with one inning of relief although allowing one run in one inning of work on two hits, did not help his ERA, which was already 7.71 before the game began.
“I want to get in there, get a save and pitch better,” explained Serrano. “I want to make something happen. What happened with Erie (Serrano’s one blown save), that is in the past. From now on, I want to try and make good pitches and to pitch well.”
Altoona opened the scoring in the home half of the first with Kevin Nicholson scooting home from third on an RBI groundout by Nate McLouth. Nicholson singled with one out and went all the way around to third on a errant pickoff attempt by Mets’ starter Jason Scobie.
In the third inning, the Curve moved back in front 2-1 when Chris Duffy singled, advanced to third base on a base hit by Nicholson to right field and scored on a sacrifice fly by Curve catcher Ryan Doumit.
After Binghamton tied the score, The Curve made the margin 3-2 with a score in the fifth. Bullington beat out an infield single for his first professional base hit to open the frame, then was forced at second by a Chris Duffy fielder’s choice. Duffy moved up to second on a balk by the pitcher and then stole third base. McLouth singled in the go-ahead run and then stole second, but was stranded. Pitchers don’t bat below the Double-A level in the minors.
Again the Mets knotted the score and again Altoona moved in front. Duffy, who had three hits, beat out an bunt to begin the seventh. Nicholson put down a bunt and beat it out for a hit when Mets’ reliever Lance Caraccioli slipped attempting to field the ball. McLouth tried to sacrifice the runners up and was safe when the pitcher threw to third base to get Duffy and everybody was safe. Ray Navarrete delivered a sac fly to deep center to score Duffy.
“That was good to see Duffy have a good day, he was getting down on himself and starting to press a bit,” said Curve manager Tony Beasley. “He had a good day at the plate and made some very nice plays on defense.”
Sounding like a broken record in the description, Binghamton rallied against McDade to tie the score at 4-4.
Finally in the bottom of the eighth, the Curve pushed across TWO runs and it proved to be enough, even though Binghamton would rally to cut the final deficit to one run.
With one out, Josh Bonifay beat out an infield hit and McDade laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move him to second base. Duffy doubled to push Altoona into a 5-4 advantage. Nicholson, who broke out of a four-for-his last-44 streak with four for-five on Tuesday added another run scoring Duffy with a single to right.
“I think last year on May 1 or 2, I only had four hits, or something like that,” mused Nicholson. “On May 1, this season, I thing a got a single. I’m feeling better. It’s really just a matter of seeing enough pitches and get that timing. Some guys come out of the gate flying. A guy like me, I sort of start slow.
“That was good today. Last night’s game we were down and Ray (Navarrete hit that home run (a three-run walkoff homer that gave the Curve a victory). We weren’t out of the game, but it seemed like they had control. That gave us some confidence and I think that’s all we need right now.”
Duffy’s most notable defensive gem was a diving catch that robbed Lyden of at least a double with just one out in the ninth inning. Binghamton phenom David Wright, who leads the Eastern League in doubles, on-base percentage and is tied with teammate Prentice Redmon in extra-base hits and in the top five of just about every offensive category, followed Duffy’s catch with his sixth home run of the year. Without the catch, the game would be tied and the way Altoona kept taking a lead and Binghamton kept coming back, the two teams might still be playing that game.
“That was big to have the two run lead in the ninth,: said Curve manger Tony Beasley. “Duffy had the big hit to put us up and then Nicholson had the base hit that scored Duffy to give us a two-run lead. It’s nice to have a two-run cushion, see they scored once. We could have still been out there if we don’t get that insurance run.”