Pitching in the biggest game in franchise history, Tony Watson showed he's back on course.
Watson recorded a career-high 10 strikeouts over six innings Saturday as the Altoona Curve captured the first Eastern League championship with a 5-2 victory over the Trenton Thunder.
A ninth-round pick in the 2007 Draft, Watson spent the first half of the season in the bullpen after missing much of last year with a strained flexor tendon in his pitching arm. He moved into the rotation on July 25 and ended up 3-4 with a 3.78 ERA in nine starts.
"You know, starting the season in the bullpen, you just take the ball whenever they ask you to. And I did," Watson said. "My arm feels great. It's just icing on the cake, it feels great."
Watson (2-0) closed out Altoona's semifinal series on Sept. 11 against Harrisburg, giving up three runs over 6 2/3 innings. He was given a chance to do the same at Trenton.
"It's just another game, you can't really think about the past," Watson said. "The guys were pretty excited after last night's win and we really wanted to get the win tonight."
Former big league catcher Matt Walbeck said his second season as Curve manager was made easier because many of his players won the 2009 Carolina League championship with Lynchburg.
"The players were used to winning and had that mind-set of playing the game the right way," he said. "They did things the way they are supposed to be done. To win in this league, it says a lot."
While managing in the Tigers organization, Walbeck guided Class A West Michigan to Midwest League championships in 2004 and 2006. The 40-year-old served as the Texas Rangers' third-base coach in 2008 before taking the Altoona job.
"Winning a championship without the halves is special because it's a full season, it's old-school baseball," he said. "It means more in the traditional sense -- you go wire-to-wire and the strongest remain standing. To beat the Trenton Thunder, they're a formidable opponent. That means a lot, too."
Jim Negrych went 3-for-5 with a double and three RBIs. With the Curve trailing, 1-0, in the fourth, he singled home Matt Hague and Andrew Lambo to put the Curve ahead to stay.
"It was huge," Watson said. "The offense came out and put up two and I had to go out and get the offense back in the dugout as quick as we could."
The Curve got another dominant performance out of their bullpen as Jared Hughes and Daniel Moskos combined on three hitless innings. Moskos picked up his fifth save, capping a postseason in which the former first-round pick did not allow a run over 6 1/3 frames.
"Daniel Moskos gave us strength in the bottom of the bullpen that all championship teams need," Walbeck said.
Justin Wilson was named postseason MVP after pitching 13 scoreless innings to win both of his starts.
"Justin Wilson is a big-game pitcher," Walbeck said. "He stepped up for us big time whenever we needed him to."
Altoona native Bob Lozinak bought the Curve in 2008 and was pleased to bring the hometown fans a championship.
"I can't emphasize the attitude the fans in Altoona had toward this ballclub. They're just great people," he said. "I know the fans in Altoona have a lot to be proud of. We'll get that trophy out there and everyone will get a chance to see it."