As the end of the season inched closer, the Altoona Curve saw their magic number to clinch a berth in the Eastern League playoffs dwindle until it was only up to them to win and get in Tuesday night.
The magic number sat at three Monday night as the Curve took on the Richmond Flying Squirrels during their last road trip of the regular season. Monday night’s action in the Eastern League was peculiar at best with four of the six games going to extra innings and all four of those having implications for Altoona.
For the Curve to clinch Monday, they needed losses for both Akron and Erie as well as to beat Richmond. Akron and Erie fell, both in extra innings, but it took 15 innings for the Flying Squirrels to take down Altoona and their depleted pitching staff.
The Curve came in to Tuesday knowing they’d only need a victory and they’d be playoff bound for the third straight season. It was up to starting pitcher Austin Coley and the Altoona offense to get them to the playoffs, and boy did they not disappoint.
Coley Stone Cold-stunnered the offense of Richmond limiting them to only four hits and not allowing a run in seven innings of work. The right-handed Coley walked one and struck out eight Flying Squirrels as his ERA dropped to 3.16 on the season.
Yeudy Garcia got the two inning save giving up a run in the ninth to spice things up but eventually shutting the door on Richmond yielding three hits and striking out two.
On the offensive side for the Curve it was Cole Tucker and timely hitting with two outs that helped put the Flying Squirrels away for good. Tucker notched the first of his two two-out RBI singles Tuesday night in the top of the fifth which scored Elvis Escobar and put Altoona on the board and in the lead at 1-0.
Wyatt Mathisen hit a two-out single in the top of the sixth to plate Anderson Feliz and put the Curve up two runs before Tucker got the second of his two-out RBI singles in the top of the seventh scoring Justin Maffei for the third and final run of the game.
It’s a battle between Bowie and Altoona for the top spot in the Eastern League Western division with five games left in the season for the Curve and six left for the Baysox. The team that finishes with the top spot will host the final three games,the last two which are if necessary, of the best-of-five playoff series with the second place team hosting the first two.
Seeding will be finalized Monday with game-one of the Western division series to begin Wednesday.
Winner of the best-of-five series will move on to face Trenton or Binghamton, whichever team comes out of the best-of-five Eastern division series.
Espinal, an Eastern League Season-Ending All-Star
It was announced last Friday former Curve first baseman Edwin Espinal was named to the Eastern League Season-Ending All-Star team. The first career end-of-season award for the first base prospect was the icing on the cake for a season in which he saw himself named to the Mid-Season All-Star game as well as get promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis.
While with the Altoona Curve, Espinal was perfect defensively at first base where he had a 1.000 fielding percentage good for both tops in the Eastern League and atop the Curve record books as the best mark in the teams near 20 year history.
Espinal’s .283 average, 15 home runs, and 72 RBIs helped land the rising slugger with Indianapolis, who also clinched a spot in the playoffs Tuesday night as they solidified their spot in the International League post-season.
Since being promoted, Espinal is hitting .311 with 12 RBIs in 29 games played for the Indians.