Sun. Dec 3rd, 2023

The Altoona Curve remained perfect in home openers Thursday with a 3-2 win over the Portland Sea Dogs at Blair County Ballpark.
Ian Snell tossed five shutout innings to pick up the win for Altoona, scattering four hits, striking out six and walking just one.
Snell, who went 4-0 with a 1.96 ERA in six games at the end of last season with the Curve continued his mastery of Eastern League hitters. Snell was named the Pirates Organizational Pitcher of the Year in 2003 for his performances at Altoona and high class A Lynchburg.
“Basically all my pitches were working,” said Snell. “I told these guys they are great teammates. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have won this game. I did my part and they definitely did theirs. It was important for us to get those early runs to boost our confidence. It showed that we can hang with anybody in this league.
The Curve scored early putting a run on the scoreboard in each of the first two innings to help Snell out.
With one out in the first, Nate McLouth made his first Double-A at bat a good, ripping the ball to left center for a double. Kevin Nicholson a switch-hitter who was batting left-handed against Portland’s right-handed knuckleballer Charlie Zink cued the ball just inside the third base line for an RBI single that plated McLouth. Nicholson was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double, but the damage was done.
In the second inning, Ray Sadler walked to open the frame and stole second base. After Gary Thomas lined out to short for the first put of the inning, Jeff Keppinger showed patience in waiting on a slow knuckler that he ripped to right center to score Sadler for a 2-0 lead. On the previous pitch, Keppinger had looked silly swinging at a knuckleball that was one of the best Zink threw all night.
“‘Kep’ is a guy who doesn’t strike out a lot,” said Curve manager Tony Beasley. “I saw the second baseman holding the runner close and I know he hits the ball that way a lot so I saw something good could possibly happen from it. He poked it over in the hole and we were able to get an RBI out of it.”
Snell held the two-run advantage, until a single by Sea Dog Jesus Medrano and a walk to Sheldon Fulse put runners on first and second with no outs in the top of the sixth. Beasley brought in Andrew Lorraine to relieve Snell at that point. Facing the number three, four and five hitters in the Portland order, Lorraine got Mike O’Keefe to fly out to right and struck out Jeff Bailey and former Curve Brett Roneberg to end the threat.
“That could have been a game-changing situation either way,” explained Lorraine. “ With no outs, I just wanted to make good pitches and have them hit the ball at somebody, get a double play ball, get an out first of all. Then you can start thinking about managing the situation. It seems very simple, but it’s not. You just have to make quality pitches. I just went out there and tried to keep the ball in play and be aggressive.”
Altoona tallied an insurance run that turned out to be the game-winner in the sixth with some help from the Sea Dogs.
Nicholson reached base to begin the inning on an error by Portland shortstop Kenny Perez and went to third when Altoona first baseman Ray Navarrete ripped a double down the right field line. Navarrete walked, singled and doubled in the cleanup position in the batting order. Catcher Ronny Paulino scored Nicholson with a sacrifice fly that gave the Curve a 3-0 lead, with three innings to play.
“We were all excited to come out (and get off to a good start),” said Navarrete. “And I was definitely excited to come back here to Altoona and play opening day and be in the lineup. We were all fortunate to do good things. I was plugging several holes and we won, so it was a good night.”
Navarrete has a .291 batting average in four minor league seasons, but had trouble getting playing time with the 2003 Curve.
In a game that was played in a spine-chilling rain for much of the time, Portland managed to score twice in their final three at bats to close the score to 3-2, but couldn’t get any closer.
Medrano homered with one out in the eighth off Landon Jacobson, who tossed two innings in relief, yielding one run on two hits. Jacobson helped himself out of possible trouble in the seventh starting a double play after giving up a single to begin the inning.
In the ninth inning with Elio Serrano on the mound for the Curve, Portland’s Jeff Bailey opened the inning with a double and Roneberg, who batted .281 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs for the Curve last year, singled to put runners at the corners. Serrano hit John Hattig with a pitch to load the bases with nobody out.
Eric Johnson drove in Bailey with a sac fly that also moved Roneberg to third base. In the biggest play of the game, Hattig tried to advance to second base on a Serrano pitch that was low in the dirt. Paulino recovered and fired a strike to shortstop Brandon Chaves covering second for the second out of the inning with Roneberg forced to remain at third. Serrano then painted the inside corner of the plate for a call-strike three on Kenny Perez to end the game.
“One very nice double play in the sixth inning that was key was a big play started by Jacobson and went 1-6-3 and got us out of a jam there,” said Beasley. “That was pretty much it. The bullpen was outstanding tonight. I hadn’t seen either Lorraine or Serrano throw very much in spring training. It was good to see the guys come in and get the job done. In the ninth we made it a little hairy, but we still got out of it.”
The Curve have now won all six of their home openers in their brief history.
The series continues tonight at Blair County Ballpark with Mike Connolly on the mound for the Curve and Abe Alvarez for the Sea Dogs. Game time is set for 6:35 p.m.

By Rick