Tyler Matzek pondered his near-term future.
The only way he'll have a chance to pitch again for the Modesto Nuts would be in a decisive Game 5 of the California League Championship Series against Lancaster.
On the other hand, should his teammates somehow manage to get past the JetHawks before his turn in the rotation returns
"I'm all for pitching in another Game 5," Matzek said. "If we keep hitting and pitching the way we are, I really think we'll be able to win it. I'm ready to pitch a Game 5, but I'm hoping we'll win it before then."
Decisive games are becoming old hat for the 21-year-old lefty. He blanked San Jose over seven innings to pick up the win in Game 3 of the North Division mini-series, and on Wednesday held Bakersfield to one run over 5º innings of a 6-2 Modesto victory in Game 5 of the North Division Championship series.
The Nuts rode five first-inning runs against untested Blaze starter James Allen to their first appearance in the league championship series since becoming a Colorado affiliate in 2005.
The best-of-five series against Lancaster opens with games tonight and Friday at John Thurman Field. The series then shifts south to The Hangar to its conclusion.
This will be the fifth trip to the league finals in Lenn Sakata's nine seasons as a California League manager, and the last three 2001, 05 and 07 resulted in championships for his San Jose teams.
"The kids are so resilient," Sakata said. "They never took losses too hard and they kept battling, so this is a credit to them."
The resiliency surfaced when the Nuts needed to win their last two games in the mini-series to avoid elimination, and again when they fell behind 2-0 in this best-of-five series. And while Sakata gives all the credit to the players, they are quick to reflect some of it back in his direction.
"Lenn's an easy guy to play for," said Tim Smalling, who had Wednesday's biggest hit. "It's nice to look down his way in the dugout because you never seen him panic or see him worried. He always believes we have a chance to win games, and I think the team feeds off that."
Allen was making his first appearance in the California League and lasted all of 11 pitches long enough to give up a single to Joey Wong and a double to Rafael Ortega followed by back-to-back four-pitch walks to Dallas Tarleton and Jared Clark to give Modesto a 1-0 lead.
The most important and best at-bat of the game followed, as Smalling took two strikes from reliever Brooks Pinkard, fouled off four pitches while working the count full, then lining a two-run double into the right field corner.
Juan Crousset followed with an RBI single and the five-run explosion was capped when Smalling strolled home on a double play ground ball hit by Delta Cleary Jr.
Tarleton added a sacrifice fly in the second for a 6-0 lead, and from that point on the Nuts began to count outs.
Matzek wasn't quite as sharp as he was in his seven scoreless playoff innings against San Jose, and needed 99 pitches to get Modesto through two outs in the sixth. He allowed one run on three hits, with six strikeouts against four walks.
"Pitching with a lead is a lot better than pitching from behind in games, but your focus still is to get the team as deep as you can into the game before you hand it to the pen," Matzek said. "You keep pounding the zone and get outs. I got a little wild but we got through it."
Bakersfield scored off Matzek in the sixth, when he walked two batters, and added a run in the eighth off Kurt Yacko on a home run by Travis Mattair.
Moments after the game, Sakata leaned back in his chair, just a few feet away from the music blaring in the Nuts' clubhouse, and talked about when he started to believe his first Nuts' team had a shot at making it this far.
"I was optimistic that we would improve to the point where we had a chance," Sakata said. "That expectation was always there, but it always takes more than talent to win, and we had the chemistry that you need to compete."