Closing time: Curve top Thunder for ELCS crown
TRENTON – When Altoona closer Daniel Moskos blew the season’s final pitch past Matt Cusick’s bat, making the Curve 5-2 winners and first-time Eastern League champions, it merely made official what had seemed inevitable since the fourth inning.
With each bat that was kicked, slammed, tossed or otherwise discarded in frustration, it became painfully clear that this, despite mountains of individual and team success, was simply not the Thunder’s year.
The fourth frame, when Altoona took the lead for good, was when the ball started slowly rolling downhill for Trenton.
With nobody out and runners on second and third as a result of a walk and an error by first baseman Marcos Vechionacci, Altoona’s Jim Negrych rifled a ball up the middle that struck starter Manny Banuelos flush in the neck, just below the right side of his chin.
The ball was hit so hard that it ricocheted past shortstop Luis Nunez, who was moving toward second base to try to make a play, and into shallow left, allowing both runners to scamper home.
The Curve tacked on three more runs the rest of the way, while Trenton, which held a 1-0 edge when the inning started, added only a Damon Sublett solo blast in the seventh to its total.
While the Thunder were in their clubhouse packing their belongings and preparing for an offseason that’s sure to be filled, for a while at least, with what ifs, the Curve’s joyful noise was still echoing throughout the bowels of Waterfront Park.
For their unofficial captain, catcher Austin Romine, those sounds, and the sights that preceded them, were sickening.
“I hate losing. I absolutely hate losing,” he said. “There’s nothing worse than seeing them dogpile on my field.”
Afterward, manager Tony Franklin told his club that it should capture this feeling, remember it and use it as motivation as they go forth and advance within their respective careers.
“We didn’t produce when the chips were down. What we’ll do is use that as a learning experience,” the skipper said, “because it’s going to happen again, and when you’re in this time of year, vying for championships, you’ve got to be at the top of your game.”
That lack of production in key situations to which Franklin referred was easily the hallmark of the series for the Thunder, who, after the way they ran through the bullying pitching of New Hampshire in the first round, seemed a good a bet to win the whole thing.
With runners in scoring position, the Thunder were just 9-for-37 over the final games, including a putrid 1-for-14 during the two home contests. That lone hit came last night, when Dan Brewer’s RBI single got them on the board in the third inning.
Their work on defense wasn’t particularly good, either.
Trenton made six errors over the four games, compared to just 97 over the 142 contests of the regular season. That total was good for second best in the Eastern League.
Now, with 2010 in the books, all that’s left for the team is to decompress and try to learn from the mistakes and use them as fuel for next year, a task that now, says Justin Snyder, seems mighty difficult.
“I don’t know, man. It’s going to be a while,” Snyder said. “Especially after getting up 1-0 and think you had the upper hand, then just coming to our place and just shoving it. It’s going to be a bitter taste for a while, but in the long run it definitely is going to be a learning experience.”