The Modesto Nuts have been walked to the cliff's edge, one step away from a steep fall and season's end.
They waved farewell to Thurman Field on Friday night with a dreary 11-2 loss to a Lancaster JetHawk team that has thoroughly outplayed them during the first two games of the best-of-five California League Championship Series.
To claim their first league title in eight years and their first with "Nuts" spelled across their respective chests Modesto must sweep three at The Hangar beginning tonight.
They did exactly that to Bakersfield just to reach the title series. Another backs-against-the-wall rally, however, may be asking too much. This time, Modesto must repeat the feat on the road against a better team.
"It's nothing new to us," left fielder Delta Cleary Jr. asserted. "There's no pressure."
Perhaps the Nuts' five-hour bus ride south today will change the vibe. For now, Lancaster stands one win away from the first championship in its 17-year history.
The Nuts failed to excite 3,002, who watched Lancaster dominate from the first pitch. Telvin Nash's three-run homer in the fifth, a 400-foot bomb to center on a 3-0 pitch from reliever Geoff Parker, made it 7-0 and rendered the rest of the game moot.
Lancaster owned a 5-4 edge over Modesto this season, then added two difference-making players leadoff man Delino DeShields Jr. and lefty starter Blair Walters.
Walters, acquired in July in the Houston Astros' trade with the Chicago White Sox for Brett Myers, puzzled the Nuts with his sinker and allowed only one run in six innings. All told, 11 Modestans went down swinging.
Dustin Garneau (3-for-3), one of the few shining lights for the Nuts, scored on a passed ball in the fifth and drove in Cleary Jr. with a sacrifice fly in the ninth.
"We've been here before," Garneau maintained. "We're not going to go easy."
If Friday night wasn't a must-win for Modesto, it was must-win's first cousin. But Lancaster responded with a series of important hits and productive outs.
Modesto starter Juan Gonzalez (6-14) again struggled, giving up six runs (four earned) in 4º innings.
Winning tonight and bridging to their best pitchers Christian Bergman and Tyler Matzek waiting in Games 4 and 5 accounts for the Nuts' only chance.
"Once you win, you prolong it," Nuts manager Lenn Sakata said, "and then the pressure goes the other way."
Nuts manager Lenn Sakata values winning at every level. Check out RonAgostini's blog at thehive.modbee.com/extrapoints