CURVE, Pa. - A bases-clearing triple by Jin-De Jhang and another dominant pitching performance by Mitch Keller lifted the Altoona Curve to their second Eastern League championship in franchise history on Thursday night, beating the Trenton Thunder, 4-2, at Peoples Natural Gas Field to cap a three-game sweep.
A four-run fifth inning proved to be enough offense for the Curve, who held off the Thunder late to close out the series.
"The hard work, the dedication, the brotherhood that you guys have built is unbelievable and second-to-none," Altoona manager Michael Ryan said addressing his team in the clubhouse following the game. "You are champions for the rest of your lives. No one can take that away."
Keller (Win, 2-0), who was named the Eastern League Postseason Most Valuable Player following the game, continued a stretch of dominant pitching that led the Curve on a run of perfection through the playoffs.
"You get starting pitching like that, you're going to be hard to beat," Ryan said. "You get timely hitting, grit in the box, and we're dumping champagne right now."
Making his second start of the postseason, Keller allowed two runs over 7.1 innings on four hits with one walk and eight strikeouts. After surrendering a pair of runs in the second inning, he settled down to retire 14 straight Trenton batters.
Down 2-0 heading into the fifth, Michael Suchy and Elvis Escobar opened the frame with back-to-back singles. After Trenton starter Will Carter (Loss, 1-1) picked up the first out of the inning, he walked Pablo Reyes to load the bases.
Kevin Kramer bounced into a force out at the plate for the second out of the inning, but Jerrick Suiter worked a bases-loaded walk from Carter to plate the Curve's first run of the night and cut the deficit to one.
Jhang followed with a three-run triple over the head of right fielder Jeff Hendrix, putting the Curve ahead, 4-2.
The Trenton bats were held quiet until a threat in the top of the eighth inning. The Thunder picked up a single and a walk to put runners on first and second with no outs, but Keller followed with a strikeout of Hendrix to close out his night, leaving to a standing ovation from the Altoona crowd.
Keller was replaced by Johnny Hellweg, who issued a walk to Thairo Estrada to load the bases, but Billy Fleming grounded into a force out at the plate and Dante Bichette Jr. bounced out to Reyes at shortstop to end the inning and strand the bases full.
Tate Scioneaux entered in the ninth inning and struck out the side in order, including a swinging strikeout of Zack Zehner to end the game and lock up the championship, sending the team into a pile in front of the mound.
The Altoona offense turned six hits and three walks into four runs against Carter, who struck out two batters over his 4.2 innings. Raynel Espinal pitched two scoreless relief innings for the Thunder, Andrew Schwaab added a scoreless frame and Cody Carroll left a runner in scoring position to close out the eighth inning.
The Curve became the third Eastern League team to sweep all six of their playoff games since 1983, joining the 1991 Albany-Colonie Yankees and the 2013 Trenton Thunder in accomplishing a perfect postseason. The Curve swept the Bowie Baysox in the Western Division Series before knocking off the Thunder in three games, celebrating their first title clincher at their home ballpark in team history.
"To beat two unbelievable teams, and to sweep everybody in the playoffs, you can't imagine that," Ryan said. "It's unbelievable."
The Altoona starting pitching staff combined to go 6-0 with a 1.66 ERA (8 ER/43.1 IP) in the postseason. Curve pitchers as a whole combined to post a 1.50 ERA (9 ER/54 IP) in the playoffs.
Ryan, a native of Indiana, Pa. and in his first season as the manager of the Curve, led the team to a 74-66 record in the regular season and the team's third consecutive postseason berth. The team won a regular-season division title for the third time in franchise history and made their third overall appearance in the Championship Series.
Keller picked up Postseason MVP honors after working a complete-game, one-hit shutout in Game 1 of the Western Division Series along with his performance in the Championship Series clincher, which locked up the Curve's first Eastern League title since 2010. For the playoffs, he went 2-0 with a 1.10 ERA (2 ER/16.1 IP).
With the league title in their pocket, the Curve will look ahead to their 2018 campaign with the 20th Season Kick-Off Concert, presented by Sheetz, at Peoples Natural Gas Field on Saturday, September 23, featuring country stars Sawyer Brown and Phil Vassar. Tickets are on sale now at AltoonaCurve.com, by phone at 877.99.CURVE or in person at the Peoples Natural Gas Field box office.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.