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Locke, Mercer help Curve tie Finals
After watching Pettitte, lefty pitches seven strong innings
09/15/2010 11:53 PM ET
Jeff Locke is 1-0 with a 1.54 ERA and 13 strikeouts in two playoff starts.
Jeff Locke is 1-0 with a 1.54 ERA and 13 strikeouts in two playoff starts. (Will Bentzel/
Jeff Locke had a little extra motivation when he took the mound in Altoona on Wednesday night, tasked with keeping the Curve from falling into a huge hole in the Eastern League Championship Series.

"I'm not a huge Yankees fan," Locke said, understating his lifelong devotion to a certain New England team. "So it's that much more important to me."

A day after watching Yankees legend Andy Pettitte make a rehab start, Locke pitched seven strong innings and Jordy Mercer hit a pair of homers as the Curve evened the best-of-5 series with a 6-4 win over the Trenton Thunder.

Locke (1-0) struck out eight and held the Thunder to a pair of runs -- one earned -- on six hits and two walks for his first playoff win.

"Honestly, anytime you get a win, it's a good feeling," said Locke, a Pirates prospect from New Hampshire. "Tonight happened to be a bit more important, with our backs against the wall. We're heading to Trenton ... and anytime you can pull out a win with your backs against the wall, at home, in front of your fans, it's a pretty important win."

Derek Hankins came on in the eighth and allowed two runs, but former first-round pick Dan Moskos sealed the win, recording the final four outs for his third postseason save.

Mercer, who hit only three homers in 126 regular-season games, matched that total with a two-run shot in the third inning and a solo blast in the eighth. The 24-year-old shortstop hadn't gone deep since June 27.

Locke, laughing, wasn't surprised.

"Supposedly, if it can happen, it happens in Altoona," he said. "Altoona is one of the eeriest, craziest places I've ever been to."

Second baseman Josh Harrison got the Curve going in the first with his third playoff homer after hitting four in 135 games during the season.

"I remember Harrison had one homer going into an Aug. 18 series at Portland, and he hit two balls over the [Maine] Monster," Locke said. "And now he's got three in this series."

Stranger things have happened. Or maybe not -- Locke's win also was the first Eastern League Championship Series victory in Altoona history. The Curve have hit a dozen homers in six playoff games after ranking 10th in the league with 80 in 142 regular-season contests.

"It's an unsung hero-type thing, we don't have one guy we look to to knock in runs," Locke said. "No one's trying to be the big hero."

To that end, Altoona managed to scrape together four runs on just one hit in the third. Miles Durham and Anthony Norman walked and Chase d'Arnaud reached on a sacrifice after Trenton starter Dellin Betances threw the ball past first baseman Marcos Vechionacci. Durham raced home to take the lead, Norman followed on a wild pitch and Mercer sent a two-run homer just over the left-field wall.

"We attacked and got our runs in third, we went at them and never gave up, even in the eighth when Mercer hit his second to give the closer a second run to work with," Locke said. "It was a complete team effort."

Locke got some help in the seventh when d'Arnaud, who homered off Pettitte in Game 1, combined on a spectacular double play. Austin Krum drew a one-out walk before Justin Snyder hit a liner to second off Locke.

"I got Snyder to ground into the best double play I've ever seen behind me," Locke said. "D'Arnaud is going to his right and does this blindsided, no-look glove flip to Mercer, who throws to first base. At that point, the adrenaline couldn't be going any higher."

Betances, a Brooklyn native, was charged with five runs -- four earned -- on four hits and four walks over 5 2/3 innings. He struck out seven.

Altoona faced Pettitte, a five-time World Series champion, in Tuesday's series opener. Locke, a Red Sox fan, grew up a sworn enemy of the Yankees left-hander. But as a fellow southpaw and one trying to learn as much as possible, he appreciated seeing the rehabbing veteran go to work.

"I've seen him a pitch a few times at Fenway Park. Yesterday, I was talking outside our clubhouse and I see him get out a car -- and he's this monsterous guy," Locke said. "Just watching him, all his misses were down, and his misses were intentional. He went about his business, he was great.

"He's done it for so long, he believes in everything. ... It shows a lot of guys how close you really are -- you aren't that far from the Majors when Andy Pettite is rehabbing for you, so it was an eye-opener. As a left-hander, I'm thinking, 'Maybe I can learn something here.'"

Mutual admiration aside, both teams got back to work Wednesday. A win by the Thunder would have put Altoona in a difficult position heading to Trenton.

"One thing that was so important for our team is everyone last night knew we had that game won. And to kind of let a win at home in the playoffs get away, we knew we had to come back today and get something," Locke said, referring to Trenton's 10-inning victory. "Everyone put last night's game behind. ... We weren't talking about yesterday's loss."

Trenton scratched across runs in the third and fifth before Daniel Brewer and Austin Romine hit back-to-back homers in the eighth.

Locke said he's confident the Curve will finish the job in Trenton, where the series resumes Thursday. Justin Wilson takes the ball for Altoona after throwing six shutout innings against Harrisburg in the division finals. The Thunder counter with Adam Warren.

"You have the feeling that whoever wins the last game has the momentum," Locke said. "I don't think we have any more momentum than they do, though. They know it's gonna finish in Trenton and that's got to be a good feeling for them. We battled them last night and lost; tonight we won, so you know it'll be a street fight."

Danny Wild is an editor for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs. Comments
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