The Richmond Flying Squirrels (75-62) nearly erased a seven-run deficit, but fell short to the Altoona Curve (58-79), 8-7, on Wednesday night at Peoples Natural Gas Field. Despite the loss, Richmond’s magic number to claim the Western Division regular season title dropped to two as Akron fell to Trenton, 8-2. Richmond can conceivably clinch the division with a win in Thursday’s series finale and another RubberDucks loss to the Thunder.
The Curve hurriedly snapped right-hander Clayton Blackburn’s 15-inning scoreless string when they struck for two runs in the first inning. Drew Maggi led off and punched a double into the right-field corner. Maggi moved to third on a groundout and scored easily for a 1-0 lead on an infield-single. An out later, Ramon Cabrera made it 2-0 with an RBI double to right-center field.
Richmond got one of the runs back in the second off of lefty Joely Rodriguez. Mario Lisson triggered the inning with a lead-off double to the left-field corner. Devin Harris followed with a single to put runners at the corners with nobody out. Angel Villalona then grounded into a double-play, but Lisson scored to trim the Altoona lead to 2-1.
Things unfortunately got worse for Blackburn in the second inning. He recorded the first two outs, but conceded a single to Rodriguez that opened the floodgates. The Squirrels allowed Rodriguez to wander to second base and Maggi then singled him home. Dan Gamache then launched a two-run home run to right field for a 5-1 lead. Blackburn then walked Broxton. He also stole second base and Matt Curry chased Blackburn from the ballgame with an RBI single back through the box. Righty Jose Casilla entered and Cabrera punctuated the inning with a two-run home run to right field. The Curve exited the inning with an 8-1 lead.
Blackburn (4-6) last just an inning and two thirds – his shortest outing of the season. He was charged with a season-high seven earned runs on seven hits, walked one and struck out two. He was saddled with his sixth loss of the season.
The Squirrels attempted to use the long-ball to climb back into the game. Lisson and Villalona each clubbed solo-home runs to left field off of Rodriguez. Lisson’s shot in the fourth inning cleared the left-field bleachers and made the score, 8-2. It was Lisson’s 18th of the season, equaling Jarrett Parker for the Squirrels’ single-season record. Villalona’s blast in the fifth inning made it 8-3, and also landed beyond the bleachers up on a grassy hillside. It marked Villalona’s ninth home run of the year and first since June 7th at Reading.
Richmond made a game of it in the seventh inning. Rodriguez opened the inning with a walk issued to Lisson. Harris followed and cracked a double through the left-center field alley. Lisson scored and Rodriguez was done for the night. Enter right-hander Jeff Inman, who immediately conceded a double to the left-field corner to Villalona. Harris scored and the score read, 8-5. Tyler La Torre then sprayed a double to left-center field to bring in Harris and Richmond was back within two runs, 8-6. LaTorre was later thrown out at the plate attempting to score on a single from Ricky Oropesa.
Rodriguez (5-11) earned the win over six innings plus two batters. He was charged with five runs on seven hits, walked one and struck out four.
Right-hander Ryan Beckman worked the eighth inning for the Curve. Righty Kenn Kasparek then handled the ninth to earn the save – his 12th. Kasparek did allow the final run of the night before closing it out. Myles Schroder singled home Villalona. Villalona had opened the inning with a double – his third extra-base hit of the night.
Casilla, right-hander Edwin Quirarte and lefty Steven Okert combined to toss 6 1/3 strong innings out of the Richmond bullpen. Only Casilla was charged with a run.
The finale of the four-game series is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday night at Peoples Natural Gas Field. Richmond RHP Chris Stratton (1-1, 3.71) will make the start against Altoona RHP Charlie Morton (0-0, —). The Flying Squirrels Pregame Warmup will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Sports Radio 910 and SportsRadio910.com.