CURVE, Pa. - Fueled by a dominant start by Eduardo Vera and an early homer by Christian Kelley , the Altoona Curve punched their ticket to the 2018 Eastern League postseason with a 3-0 victory over the Richmond Flying Squirrels on Sunday at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
For the second time in franchise history, the Curve (74-56) locked up their fourth straight berth to the playoffs and the franchise's ninth overall. With a third straight win over the Flying Squirrels (61-67) and a loss by the Akron RubberDucks (73-67) earlier in the day, Altoona has moved into sole possession of first place in the Eastern League Western Division.
The first and final hitters to face Vera (Win, 8-3) were the only two hits allowed by the Curve right-hander. Vera set a new career-high in strikeouts with nine and struck out the side two times during the second and fifth innings.
Richmond's first two batters reached against Vera as Matt Lipka hit a single to start the game before Caleb Gindl got aboard on the first of his three walks in the game. Vera induced a double play for his first two outs and used his first strikeout to strand Lipka at third base. Dylan Davis hit a two-out double in the eighth that ended the night for Vera after 102 pitches.
Geoff Hartlieb (Save, 9) struck out Lipka to strand Davis at second base for the final out of the eighth in relief of Vera. Hartlieb marched back out for the ninth and worked a 1-2-3 frame to lock down the shutout.
The Curve scored all three of their runs quickly. With two-outs in the second, Logan Hill beat out an infield single and Kelley slugged a two-run homer over the left field seats, his eighth of the year. Back-to-back singles in the sixth by Cole Tucker and Ke'Bryan Hayes set up an RBI groundout by Bryan Reynolds that generated a 3-0 lead for the Curve.
With the shutout, Altoona pitchers have recorded 11 this season to match Portland for the second-most in the league behind Akron's 12.
The Curve start the final regular-season home series against the Trenton Thunder, the Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees, on Monday night. Right-hander Logan Sendelbach (4-2, 4.10) will start the opening game of the four-game set for Altoona against Trenton righty Trevor Stephan (2-8, 5.13). First pitch is set for 6 p.m. at PNG Field.
The ballpark gates open at 5 p.m. for Margaritaville Night. Fans can visit Five Star Mitsubishi of Altoona for free grandstand tickets to the final Mitsubishi Monday of the regular season. For tickets or more information, visit AltoonaCurve.com, call 877.99.CURVE or stop by the PNG Field box office.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.