In the collective mind of the Modesto Nuts, there are games left to be won.
But in the bigger picture after winning four straight elimination games this team has nothing left to prove.
Modesto battled back from a two-run deficit Tuesday with single runs in the fourth and sixth innings, then scratched out a run in the eighth to trim Bakersfield 3-2 and force a decisive Game 5 in the California League North Division Championship Series.
Just another come-from-behind win for the Nuts? No, it was more than that, since this was a team that won two elimination games against San Jose just to reach this series, and has won back-to-back do-or-die contests against the Blaze just for the chance to play tonight.
"This is a great team to play on and I've said that all season," said Delta Cleary Jr., who had three hits and drove in two runs. "Everybody is out here for the right reason to be the first Nuts team to win this, and that would be a great experience for all these guys."
With Modesto's 2-3-4 hitters going 1-for-13, the rally from a 2-0 deficit had to come from lower in the order, which responded with three one-run rallies.
The last started with one out in the eighth, as Tim Smalling's third single of the game was followed by Cleary's third single. Catcher Dallas Tarleton followed with a line single to right as Smalling sprinted home from second with the eventual game-winner.
Adam Jorgenson got the win after pitching a perfect eighth, with Isaiah Froneberger allowing a two-out single in the ninth before whiffing leadoff hitter Theo Bowe to notch the save.
Modesto's successful rally for the win did not surprise Smalling and Cleary, who batted sixth and seventh in the order on Tuesday after being up and down in the order all season.
"That's been us all year," Smalling said. "We've played well with our back to the wall and now we're in a game five, where anything can happen."
Cleary hit first and second in the order against San Jose, but found himself in the lower half for in this series.
"I don't look at it any differently," Cleary said. "I don't look at where I am in the lineup as an indication that someone doesn't have faith in me. I can still do what I need to do and I know my teammates have faith in me just like I have faith in them."
Josh Mueller was strong through his first three innings, but got himself in trouble in the fourth, walking Ryan Wright and Travis Mattair to open the inning.
Mattair was forced at second on Steve Selsky's ground ball, but Selsky was on the move when D'Anna hit a slow roller through the left side, and by the time Cleary was able to get to the ball, Selsky was around third and was able to score on the play.
Modesto similarly was doing nothing with Blaze starter Dan Renken until the fourth, when Juan Crousset walked with one out, Smalling singled and Cleary singled to right to plate Crousset and push Smalling to third.
Modesto tied the game in the sixth off reliever Mike Dennhardt, as Crousset singled with one out, moved to second on a wild pitch and third on an ground ball before scoring when Cleary beat out a ground ball for an infield single.
Bennigson relieved Mueller in the fifth and got out of the inning with a double play grounder, but it was Bennigson that needed the held in the seventh, as two one-out singles and a missed cutoff man put Blaze runners at second and third with one out.
Kurt Yacko restored order by retiring Devin Lohman on a pop to short right, then got Ryan Wright on a fly ball to left to preserve the tie and allow the Nuts to work their magic in the eighth.
"Everybody has confidence on this team and everybody is picking everybody else up," Cleary said. "That's the good thing about this team. It's a long season 140 games plus playoffs - and everybody is tired, so the way we pick each other up is the most important thing about this team."
NUTS NOTES: Tyler Matzek, who nailed down the final win of the San Jose series with 7ª shutout innings, will start for the Nuts tonight against righty James Allen, who will be making his Cal League debut.
Tonight's winner will host the first two games of the league championship series against upstart Lancaster JetHawks, who clinched the South Division title over High Desert after finishing the regular season with a sub-.500 record.
Vouchers redeemable for free general admission tickets to all Nuts playoff games are available at area Boyett Petroleum stations.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2150. Follow him at twitter.com/modestobeek.
Good news from Oakland evokes 2004 Modesto memories. For details, read Brian VanderBeek's blog at thehive.modbee.com/thurman.