Even if Christian Bergman goes on to have a long career in professional baseball, he'll always remember a very special day during his stay in Modesto.
Late Wednesday afternoon the Nuts' ace found out he was named the California League's Pitcher of the Year. At night he went out and pitched six strong innings as Modesto clinched a playoff berth with a 5-2 victory over Stockton.
"This was a solid day," said Bergman, who became the second 16-game winner in Nuts' history. "I'll remember this for the rest of my life."
You get the feeling those same sentiments will be shared by nearly everybody on the roster. This was a team that started the season 2-9 and played dreadful baseball through April.
Through the season they morphed into one of the better defensive teams in the California League, and with this win have secured no worse than a wild-card playoff berth, eliminating Visalia.
Since San Jose lost in 11 inning at Lake Elsinore, the Nuts would clinch the North Division second-half title and the No. 1 divisional seed with one more win or San Jose loss anytime in the final five games of the regular season.
"This means a lot," said second baseman Brett Tanos, who had key hits in the second and sixth innings. "For a lot of us who have been together in Casper and Asheville it's the first time we've ever clinched anything. It's awesome. It's a long season and this is the payoff."
The unbridled enthusiasm of the team carried into the home bullpen down the right-field line. Instead of infusing the clubhouse carpet with the stench of spilled beer and champagne, the Modesto players took their celebration outside.
They celebrated very much like collegians, and indeed this year's Nuts squad seems to have that collegiate brand of camaraderie. Yes, this is a level of baseball in which each player is trying to beat his teammate to the next promotion, but as long as they're together, they're a team.
"It's a tough situation because everybody is in the game for themselves, to try to get to the big leagues," Tanos said. "But at the same time, we're together and this is a family for six months out of the year. It's just nice to be able to celebrate like this as a group."
Bergman (16-5) gave up solo homers to B.A. Vollmuth and Michael Gilmartin to fall behind 2-0 in the second inning as he appeared to have trouble spotting his fastball, but the Ports wouldn't score again.
"My fastball command wasn't where I wanted it to be, but my slider was working so I just rode that through the rest of the game and found my way through it," Bergman said.
Tanos tripled and scored on Jayson Langfels' sacrifice fly in the second, and Kyle Parker doubled and eventually came home on Juan Crousset's ground ball to tie the game 2-2 in the fourth.
A triple by Delta Cleary Jr., chased Rafael Ortega around the bases with the lead run in the fifth. The Nuts took control in the sixth when Dallas Tarleton doubled, Tanos singled, Crousset lined an RBI double off the top of the wall in right, and Langfels singled home the final run.
Adam Jorgenson, Kurt Yacko and Isaiah Froneberger each threw an inning of scoreless relief, with the final out of the game the signal for pull tabs and corks to be popped.
"You hope you start playing better at the end of the season, and we have," said Nuts' manager Lenn Sakata. "We're far from a perfect team, but the effort we give is great and we worked hard to score enough to win. I'm glad this part is over."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2150. Follow him at twitter.com/modestobeek.
The Modesto Nuts' Kyle Parker overcame a lot to become an all-league outfielder. For all the details, read Brian VanderBeek's blog at thehive.modbee.com/thurman.