July 29, 2011

That just-short feeling

Mitch Dening just misses a homer in the ninth that would have tied the game. Instead, a loss.

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — On Thursday afternoon, Boston Red Sox fans watched with expectation, and then despair, as Carl Crawford's attempt at a walk-off home run was caught just shy of the right-field wall.

click image to enlarge

Heiker Meneses of the Portland Sea Dogs prepares to slap a tag on Brock Holt of the Altoona Curve, who was caught attempting to steal second base Thursday night in the first inning of Altoona’s 7-4 victory at Hadlock Field.

Photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Jeff Locke, a native of North Conway, N.H., lasted five innings as the Altoona starter, allowing three runs on six hits. He walked one and struck out four.

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WHO: Altoona Curve (Michael Colla 4-7) at (Portland Sea Dogs TBA)

WHEN: 7 p.m.

WHERE: Hadlock Field

TICKETS: 2,500 available

On Thursday night, Portland Sea Dogs fans felt the same rush, and disappointment.

With the Sea Dogs trailing 7-4 and two runners on with two outs, Mitch Dening crushed a full-count fastball and watched it head toward the wall in right-center.

There, on the warning track, Altoona center fielder Starling Marte swallowed it in his glove, preserving the Curve's 7-4 victory before a sold-out crowd of 7,368 at Hadlock Field.

"I jumped all over it," Dening said. "I thought it had a chance in the wind but I didn't hit it hard enough."

Dening, who entered the game in the eighth inning for the injured Ryan Khoury, is familiar with dramatics. He hit a walk-off homer the last time the Sea Dogs were in town, last week against Binghamton.

This time, if Dening had homered to tie it, the Sea Dogs had the hot bat of Alex Hassan (two doubles) coming up next.

Instead, the Sea Dogs dropped to 43-61. Altoona is 45-69.

Some in the Hadlock crowd were cheering for the Curve, namely starting pitcher Jeff Locke, a native of North Conway, N.H. Locke, 23, is one of the Pittsburgh Pirates' top pitching prospects.

Last year, Locke pitched at Hadlock and stymied the Sea Dogs, pitching a three-hit shutout over eight innings, striking out eight in a 1-0 victory in front of several of his fans who crossed the state border for the game.

Locke had his followers again Thursday. He lasted five innings this time, allowing three runs, two earned, on six hits and a walk. He struck out four.

"The fastball wasn't there, but the breaking ball and change-up were," Locke said. "It wasn't the game plan we had at the start.

"But I did have a lot of adrenaline coming in It's always fun to come back and pitch against a team you've been coming to watch since you were 6 years old."

Locke, with the non-decision, remains 6-8, lowering his ERA to 4.10.

Sea Dogs starter Michael Lee (4.96) kept Portland in the game, going 4 1/3 innings (eight hits/three runs).

Reliever Eammon Portice (3-6) was dominant, striking out six in 22/3 innings. But two Sea Dogs errors -- one fielding, one throwing -- in the seventh allowed two Curve runs to score and break the tie.

In the eighth, Portice walked a batter and then gave up a two-run homer by Matt Curry.

"Portice did a great job and the linescore is not going to reflect that," Sea Dogs Manager Kevin Boles said.

Hassan scored on a double play in the eighth, closing to 7-4. With two outs in the ninth, Jeremy Hazelbaker walked and Heiker Meneses got his second single, bringing up Dening.

As in Fenway Park on Thursday almost.

NOTES: Khoury left the game after the seventh inning when he fouled a pitch off his shin. ... Mark Wagner played his first game at Hadlock Field since June of 2009. Wagner, 27, was out of minor league options this year and was designated for assignment late in spring training. He spent time in Fort Myers, Fla., rehabbing a shoulder injury. He went to Class A Salem before a promotion to Portland last week. He will be a minor league free agent at the end of the season. ... Chih-Hsien Chiang (.338) singled in the eighth to up his hitting streak to 13 games. ... If you want to spread any rumors about the Red Sox being interested in Colorado starter Ubaldo Jimenez, a Rockies scout was in attendance at Hadlock Field.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:


Twitter: ClearTheBases


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