PORTLAND — The first pitch to a Sea Dogs batter was a called strike, and cheers rose from the Hadlock Field crowd.

What gives?

The Portland Sea Dogs may be the hometown team, but they faced a (nearly) hometown boy Wednesday night when left-hander Jeff Locke started for the Altoona Curve.

Locke, 22, a native of North Conway, N.H., attracted fans from across the border, and he delivered a three-hit, eight-strikeout performance over seven innings in a 1-0 Altoona victory.

“For me it was like a home game,” said Locke, who visited Hadlock several times as a fan, and returned with a sinking fastball and effective change-up.

Locke (2-1) got the win when Anthony Norman dropped in a bloop RBI single in the eighth inning off reliever Eammon Portice (3-7).

Altoona (71-51) goes for the series sweep over the Dogs (58-64) with a noon game today.

Locke wasn’t the only starter to shine Wednesday. Sea Dogs right-hander Blake Maxwell threw six shutout innings.

After allowing two singles in the first inning, Maxwell retired the final 16 batters.

“I was able to keep the ball down low in the zone and get action on it,” said Maxwell.

“He threw all three pitches for strikes and made it real hard for the batters to get comfortable in the box,” Portland catcher Ryan Lavarnway said.

But Maxwell is only a part-time starter for Portland — although he’s looking more like an ace right now — and had to leave because of a tight pitch count.

Maxwell threw 68 pitches, 49 for strikes. First-pitch strikes is a sure sign of control and Maxwell was 15 of 20 on that count.

“I said I was good but I had a feeling I was coming out,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell, 26, who was promoted July 15 from Class A Salem, arrived as a reliever but made his fourth start for the Sea Dogs. After Wednesday’s non-decision, Maxwell is 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA.

“My ability to command the fastball at the bottom of the strike zone and the addition of my change-up this season has helped a lot,” Maxwell said.

Locke, a graduate of Kennett High School in 2006, was a second-round draft pick that year by the Atlanta Braves.

Atlanta traded him to Pittsburgh last season in the Nate McLouth deal. The Pirates promoted him to Double-A last month.

On Wednesday, Locke escaped a couple of jams, allowing three doubles and a walk.

Ryan Khoury opened the third with a double to left field. He advanced to third on Matt Sheely’s sacrifice. But two harmless groundouts followed.

Jorge Padron doubled with one out in the fifth and was stranded.

Che-Hsuan Lin led off the sixth with a double when the right fielder fell down. But Lin was thrown out trying to stretch it to a triple.

Locke retired the next five batters and reliever Michael Dubee finished it with two 1-2-3 innings.

NOTES: Shortstop Jose Iglesias had a scheduled day off and will be back in the lineup today. … Todd Claus, a former Sea Dogs manager, attended the game. Claus, who managed Portland to the 2006 Eastern League championship, is the Latin America scouting coordinator for the Red Sox.

 

Staff writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at:

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