A six-run onslaught in the seventh inning, plus three more for good measure in the eighth, pushed the visiting Akron RubberDucks past the Altoona Curve, 12-8, in Game 1 of the Eastern League Western Division Series on Wednesday night.
Akron started fast as shortstop Eric Stamets homered with one out in the first off of right-hander Alex McRae to give the ‘Ducks the early 1-0 lead. It would not last for long, however, as Akron starter Julian Merryweather quickly loaded the bases, giving up back-to-back singles and a walk to start the bottom half of the frame. A wild pitch allowed one run to score before he locked in and struck out Edwin Espinal and Anderson Feliz swinging, but Jin-De Jhang (older brother of Merryweather’s former teammate in Lynchburg, Yu-Cheng Chang) doubled to left, scoring both base runners to give Altoona a 3-1 lead.
The Curve added two more in the bottom of the next inning. Eric Wood doubled to lead things off and moved to third on a fly out. He scored on a double to left by Kevin Newman, who would score two batters later on a two-out single to center by Barrett Barnes.
Down 5-1, Akron put something together in the top of the third to cut into the deficit. Stamets singled to lead off and moved to third on a shot to center by Jordan Smith. Smith picked off second with Nellie Rodriguez at the plate and the ‘Ducks slugger lifted a sacrifice fly to right, scoring Stamets with Akron’s second run. Mike Papi made it a 5-3 game with a line drive single to center to score Smith.
Altoona got a run back in the third as Feliz homered to left to lead off the bottom half. After two straight singles, Merryweather set the next three down in order.
Akron missed a chance in the fifth to cut into the Altoona lead. Rodriguez doubled with two outs, but was thrown out at the plate on Papi’s single to center. The Curve rode the momentum in the bottom of the frame as Stetson Allie homered with two outs to make it a 7-3 game.
The tide turned for the RubberDucks in the seventh as each of the first five men reached safely. Ivan Castillo doubled and Greg Allen tripled him home to make it 7-4. Stamets singled off of Altoona’s McRae, scoring Allen and ending the night of the Curve starter. Reliever Josh Smith faced one batter, walking Jordan Smith, and Miguel Rosario in relief allowed a single to left from Rodriguez to drive in Stamets to make it 7-6. After a strikeout by Papi, Eric Haase delivered a clutch two-out, two-run double to left, scoring both runners and giving Akron its first lead since the first inning. Joe Sever drew a walk to put two on for Mark Mathias, who singled to right, scoring Haase to put Akron on top, 9-7.
Feliz hit his second leadoff homer of the night in the bottom of the seventh off of reliever Grant Sides to make it a 9-8 game. Cole Sulser came in from the Akron bullpen and got out of the jam before his offense tacked on three more runs. Allen walked, moved to second on a groundout, and scored on a double by Smith. Smith scored on a two-out, two-run homer from Papi to make it 12-8. Louis Head secured the game in the bottom of the ninth, giving up a one-out double to Jhang and a walk to Wood before striking out Elvis Escobar swinging to end it.
Sides earned the win in relief, allowing a run over an inning and a third. Stamets went 4-for-5 at the plate with a homer, three singles, and two RBI. Papi was 3-for-4 with a pair of singles, a two-run homer, and three RBI on the night.
Akron took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-5 series with the win. Game 2 of the series will be played at 6:00 PM on Thursday night from People’s Natural Gas Field.
The series will move to Canal Park in Akron on Friday. If necessary, Games 4 and 5 will be played from the site of the Eastern League All-Star Game on Saturday and Sunday.
Photo: David Monseur/MiLB.com