While shagging fly balls during batting practice, Modesto's Tim Smalling strolled over to Joey Wong and predicted Wong would open the Nuts' first with a first-pitch home run.
Yeah, sure. Not only had Wong hit only one homer this season for Modesto, but this would be his first appearance as the leadoff hitter.
And Smalling was wrong anyway. Wong waited until the second pitch to crush a fastball over the right field fence for the first of his four hits that helped Modesto to a 12-1 dousing of the Bakersfield Blaze, keeping the Nuts' season alive.
"That set the tone of the game right there," Smalling said. "We were joking in the outfield before the game and I told him he was going to hit the first pitch of the game out of the park. I think it was the second pitch but he did it, and it was a bomb, too. It really got us going offensively."
Modesto trails the Blaze 2-1 in the best-of-five series, which will be played to its conclusion at John Thurman Field. Josh Mueller (5-1, 3.18) will start for Modesto tonight against Dan Renken (6-9, 5.93).
Wong, Smalling and Jared Clark all connected for home runs in the Nuts' four-run first inning, and Modesto turned the game into a rout with a six-run eighth inning.
Jorge De La Rosa, on a major league rehabilitation assignment for Colorado, allowed a solo home run to Travis Mattair before hitting his 60-pitch limit with two outs in the fourth inning and exiting with a 6-1 lead.
Christian Bergman, the California League's pitcher of the year, worked the final five innings and blanked the Blaze on two hits to earn the win.
Modesto was facing its third elimination game of the playoff season, and manager Lenn Sakata scrambled the lineup in search of offense. He'd been using Delta Cleary Jr. and Rafael Ortega at the top of the order.
"Delta wasn't getting on base so I moved him down, and Ortega was swinging the bat so well that I wanted to put him in a spot where he could drive in runs," Sakata said. "Joey did a lot more than I expected and that home run really got us going."
The blast, which easily carried out to right-center, removed any notion that the Nuts would be tight or nervous heading into the game.
"We have a great group of guys and we get along really well, and that helps us stay loose and have fun while we just go out and play the game," Wong said. "The last series helped, being in elimination games, so we've been through that, and being at home is nice. For some reason we play our best ball here."
Both Wong and Smalling are using the postseason as a chance to make up for this summer's lost time, since both spent significant portions of the season on the disabled list with leg injuries. Wong finished the season with only 100 plate appearances for Modesto, while Smalling got 295 in 68 games.
"For me and Tim, we're still trying to figure some things out," said Wong, who played collegiately at Oregon State. "It's nice to be able to get these extra at-bats and I think Tim and I are starting to get more comfortable at the plate. It's coming at a good time."
Smalling, a product of Virginia Tech, agreed with Wong.
"It's tough being injured and having to sit and watch," Smalling said. "It was even tougher for Joey because he had to go back to extended spring, then Tri-City and Asheville before making it back here."
Every player in the Nuts' lineup either scored a run or drove one in. Smalling and Cleary added two hits apiece, with Cleary's two-run triple in the eighth breaking open the game.
"This is the fun part of the season," Smalling said. "It's what you work all year for and getting these extra at-bats is just a bonus. It's good to be feeling good at this part of the season."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2150. Follow him at twitter.com/modestobeek.