SAN JOSE -- It took Christian Bergman six hitters to find his feel on the Municipal Stadium mound Wednesday night.
He had no way to know that his somewhat slow start would be enough to doom the Modesto Nuts in their playoff opener.
Leadoff hitter Shawn Payne homered on Bergman's first pitch and the San Jose Giants added another first inning run to secure all the offense they needed to claim a 3-1 victory over the Nuts in the first game of the best-of-three California League North Division mini series.
The scene shifts to John Thurman Field for tonight's second game, and a third one on Friday should Modesto rebound with a victory.
But to do so they'll need to find some offense not an easy task with run-producer Kyle Parker on the bench and out of the series with an injured left thumb.
It will be a plus for the Nuts that they won't be seeing Clayton Blackburn, a 19-year-old righty who made his San Jose debut with seven innings of one-run, three-hit pitching.
Not only did Modesto not face Blackburn during the season, but they had no way to secure any kind of scouting report since he wasn't announced as the Giants' starter until Tuesday evening.
"(Blackburn) was very impressive, and we were challenged offensively without Kyle in the lineup," said Nuts manager Lenn Sakata. "But we showed up and tomorrow we'll regroup against, uh, who's throwing for them tomorrow?"
Yes, to prove that the late announcement of Blackburn was not a fluke, San Jose manager Andy Skeels continued that bit of gamesmanship by waiting until after Wednesday's game was over and the Nuts were loading their bus to name Kelvin Marte as his Game 2 starter. He'll face Modesto righty Josh Mueller.
Gamesmanship or no, Blackburn was tough. Drafted in the 16th round last year out of high school in Amarillo, Texas, he went 8-4 with a 2.52 ERA for low-A Augusta this year before getting called up to San Jose to start the playoffs.
By all rights, he should have been the one with jitters, making his first start in a playoff opener against the league's Pitcher of the Year.
But after Blackburn made quick work of the Nuts in the top of the first, Bergman's first offering, a get-it-over fastball, was crushed to dead-center by Payne, who had hit all of six homers in 175 professional games before joining Blackburn on the end of season Georgia-to-California shuttle.
"First pitch of the ballgame," Bergman said. "I threw a fastball and he hit it out. It's as simple as that. I don't remember that ever happening before. It's too early to think too much about it. You have to keep going after them and stick to your plan and erase it from your memory."
But San Jose kept up the pressure, adding two bloop singles and a two-out softy hit double to right by Alex Berg to take a 2-0 lead.
Bergman shook off Berg's double to retire the next 13 Giants' batters, but the damage was done.
"Sometimes you just tip your cap," Bergman said. "They made some good adjustments and got some hits after that."
Modesto broke through in the third when Rafael Ortega smashed a solo homer to right, but had to wait until Blackburn was gone after seven innings to mount a real threat.
The Nuts got hits from Ortega and Delta Cleary Jr. to open the eighth off Josh Osich. The runners moved up on Dallas Tarleton's grounder to the right side, but Brett Tanos and Juan Crousset both struck out to strand the runners.
Jared Clark surprised San Jose closer Jose Valdez with a bunt single to open the ninth, but that went for naught when Dustin Garneau grounded into a double play. Joey Wong singled to keep Modesto's hopes alive ahead of Cristhian Adames' game-ending ground ball.
For Bergman, who went 16-5 in the regular season, it was yet another quality start in a season filled with such performances. But he returned to Modesto following the game not knowing whether his season was done.
"I'll be going about my business like I'll be pitching again in five days, because that's what I expect," Bergman said. "I expect us to bounce back and that I'll be pitching again."
Sakata expects the same thing, as far as the pitching is concerned. He expects a solid outing from Mueller to set up Tyler Matzek for what would be a series-deciding Game 3 on Friday as long as Modesto can find some offense.
"Bergman kept us in the game and normally that's a good start, one that gives us a chance to win," Sakata said. But we didn't put up any numbers. We sputtered on offense, so now we'll put up a lineup that we think will be able to score, as soon as we find out who is pitching for them."