For a team trying to poise itself for September postseason play, the Modesto Nuts are looking like they did in April.
Remember April? That was when the Nuts pitchers routinely fell behind hitters and the team defense was the worst in the league as the team won two of its first 11 games.
Modesto has improved eons since then to assume first place in the California League's North Division's second half, but Thursday's 6-3 loss to High Desert was a reminder of what sloppy baseball can do to a team.
And this was a classic giveaway night.
"It's a definite challenge for us to figure this out," said Nuts' manager Lenn Sakata. "Some people do and some people don't and that's the way it goes."
The Nuts had rallied from a 2-0 deficit to grab a 3-2 lead entering the seventh before imploding with reliever Chad Rose on the mound.
With two out and nobody aboard, third baseman Jayson Langfels fielded a ground ball, then uncorked a throw that sailed into the baseline and was dislodged from the glove of Mark Tracy by baserunner Steven Proscia.
Mickey Wiswall followed with a game-tying RBI double, and the Nuts were in position to get out of the inning with a tie when John Hicks hit a hard two-hopper at Langfels. But the ball rolled up Langfels' arm for his second error of the inning as Wiswall scored.
Mario Martinez lined the next pitch to center for a single and a 5-3 lead, putting Rose (3-5) in line for the loss despite not allowing an earned run.
"He (Langfels) made some mistakes that cost us," Sakata said. "If he makes that one throw the inning is over. Those are mistakes that you try to eliminate eventually, but until you do they cause us some problems."
It also seemed like April for Nuts' starter Tyler Matzek, who battled through five innings and allowed only two runs despite constantly working deep counts.
He got a double-play grounder to get out of a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the third, then needed 34 pitches to work through the fourth. The Mavericks scored two in the inning, making the least of the two walks and three singles they collected in the frame.
Matzek was gone after five innings and 102 pitches, having allowed eight hits and four walks to go with three strikeouts.
"He was on the brink of disaster tonight and that's the way it's been with him," Sakata said. "But he did find a way to get out of trouble. It wasn't a great game for him, but he was able to tough it out and keep it to two runs. You take two runs over five innings from your starter 99 percent of the time."
The Nuts, held to two singles through four innings by High Desert starter Brett Shankin, came alive to tie the game in the fifth on a walk, a double by Rafael Ortega and a two-run double by Cristhian Adames.
They took a 3-2 lead against Shankin in the sixth when Juan Crousset singled and scored when Langfels doubled to left.
Despite the back-to-back home losses to the Mavericks, the Nuts were able to maintain their 2½-game lead on Visalia in the second half.
Even though, suddenly, Modesto is looking a lot like its first-half self.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2150. Follow him at twitter.com/modestobeek.