Keller helps Curve sweep to EL title

No. 2 Pirates prospect settles down, fans eight over 7 1/3 innings

Altoona peaked at the right time to notch its second Eastern League title in team history. (Trey Wilson/Altoona Curve)

By Andrew Battifarano / | September 14, 2017 11:52 PM

After watching Double-A Altoona claim a walk-off victory on the final day of the regular season, manager Michael Ryan could sense his team was finding its groove at the right time. But even he couldn't envision the Curve finishing a perfect 6-0 in the playoffs en route to their second Eastern League title in franchise history.

Mitch Keller allowed two runs on four hits and a walk with eight strikeouts over 7 1/3 innings while Jin-De Jhang ripped a three-run triple in the fifth to lead Altoona to a 4-2 victory over Trenton on Thursday at Peoples Natural Gas Field to clinch a three-game sweep in the best-of-5 Eastern League Finals.

Video: Altoona claims Eastern League title

"Anytime that you're celebrating at the end of the postseason, it's so rewarding to play two good teams and go undefeated throughout the postseason," Ryan said. "To go three against Bowie and three against Trenton, who have been the best two teams in the league all year, in my opinion, it's so rewarding and we earned every second of it." 

The Curve clinched the Western Division title on Labor Day against Harrisburg, courtesy of a walk-off homer from Mitchell Tolman.

"We had a really good series to be able to clinch the division, where all three phases were really working," Ryan said. "That really carried over to Bowie. We had three great starts on the mound, played superb defense and had timely hitting -- the offense was clicking. That's why we are in the position we are now and we're celebrating." 

Gameday box score

After grabbing hold of a 2-0 series lead, Keller got the ball to start Game 3 with a chance to clinch, but the No. 2 Pirates prospect yielded two runs in the second when Zack Zehner plated a run on a groundout and Rashad Crawford followed with an RBI double. But Keller stayed composed and shut the door for the rest of the night. 

"It's a testament to Mitch and his presence," Ryan said of his starter, who sported a 2-2 record and a 3.16 ERA in six regular-season Eastern League starts. "It's a 21-year-old kid that looks like a seasoned veteran out there. He looks like he's 25 or 26 out there. The way he handles himself on the mound, he's just in complete control. Nothing fazes the guy and you're very confident when you have a guy on the mound with that kind of stuff." 

Video: Keller records 8th strikeout

Altoona finally broke through with two outs in the fifth when Jerrick Suiter drew a bases-loaded walk. With the bags still filled, Jhang ripped a 2-1 pitch from Will Carter down the right-field line for a three-run triple. 

"It just felt like one of those big hits that gave us the confidence back," Ryan said. "It gave us the lead and we knew we needed to throw zeros the rest of the way. We knew we had the opportunity. I'm not saying it was a gut-punching hit, but it gave us some breathing room. We had no runs going into the fifth and to be able to put up four raised our confidence and helped us focus up a little bit." 

MiLB include

Keller pitched into the eighth, recording one out in the frame before ceding to Johnny Hellweg, who worked out of a bases-full jam to end the scoreless stanza. Tate Scioneaux entered in the ninth, setting down the first two Trenton batters via strikeout. After Zehner fell into an 0-2 hole, Scioneaux put the finishing touches on the title with another punchout to send the Curve and the crowd of 3,656 into a frenzy.

Complete playoff coverage

Ryan was still trying to let the moment sink in. 

"We were celebrating that we finally did it," he said. "You hug your staff and you thank them for everything that they've done and all the hard work that they've put in. That's the reward like that, to be able to celebrate like we are right now and to be able to enjoy it with one another."

Andrew Battifarano is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter, @AndrewAtBatt. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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