Modesto Nuts beat Bakersfield Blaze for 3rd straight win

bvanderbeek@modbee.comMay 5, 2013 

    alternate textBrian VanderBeek
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Sports, including preps, colleges and the Modesto Nuts
    Bio: Brian VanderBeek joined The Bee in 1996 after previously working at The Home News-Tribune and The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, the (Dover) Delaware State News and the Hanford Sentinel. He is a graduate of Ripon High, Modesto Junior College and holds a degree in journalism from Fresno State.
    Recent stories written by Brian
    On Twitter: @modestobeek

The Modesto Nuts went into the weekend searching for signs of life, both individually and collectively.

Three games later, and with three wins over Bakersfield in hand, there is new hope in the Nuts' dugout.

Sunday's 6-3 victory over the Blaze on a dusty and windy afternoon gave Modesto its third three-game win streak of the season, but that was only part of the reason the music was blaring in the home clubhouse.

Five of the Nuts' six runs came on two-out RBI hits, part of the arsenal missing from the Modesto attack through the season's first 30 games.

Those run-producing knocks came from Ryan Casteel, Taylor Featherston, Jordan Ribera and Trevor Story, with Story's grounder through the right side capping a three-run eighth inning that broke a 3-3 tie.

"Whoever is at the plate in this lineup is someone who has our full confidence to come through in the clutch," Story said. "We have a really special group here."

Not coincidentally, this is the first weekend the Nuts have had a full lineup in place the way it was imagined in spring training. Sam Mende (hamstring) is back at third base, Taylor Featherston (shoulder) is at second base, and the addition of a third catcher to the roster allows both Casteel and Will Swanner to be in the lineup.

But Story entered the season as one of the keys to the Nuts' offensive success, and that hasn't changed despite his unthinkable slow start. He entered Sunday's game hitting .146 (14 for 96) with only six extra-base hits and seven RBIs.

Part of the slow start was due to his anxiety at the plate, and part was due to just plain bad baseball luck.

In Sunday's second inning, he successfully moved a runner from second to third with a ground ball to the right side. In the fourth, he hit a hard line drive the opposite way that would have been at least a double until Juan Duran snared it deep in the right-field corner.

In the sixth he smoked a one-hop ground ball to short that was turned into a double play.

So Story was hitless until the ninth, when his worst contact of the day resulted in a 28-hop grounder that crawled into right field for a two-run single.

Such is baseball.

"It's been a little bit frustrating, but it's all you can do," Story said. "After you put a good swing on the ball you don't have a say in where it goes or who catches it. I'm going to keep doing what I can."

Yet, as Story turns things around at the plate, he's bound to bring his teammates along for the ride, which generally is the case whenever anyone in the lineup finds his stroke.

"There's some life on this club and they're starting to feel it," said Nuts manager Lenn Sakata. "It's a good time to pick things up because we need to get rolling. The kids need to gain confidence. This was a nice game for everybody."

The Nuts took a 1-0 lead in the first when Featherston lined a two-out double to left and scored on Casteel's triple to right. David Kandilas reached on an error to open the second and eventually scored on Ribera's screaming two-out liner to right.

The Blaze tied it a 2-2 in the third off Modesto starter Tyler Gagnon, but the Nuts pushed ahead 3-2 in the fifth when Ribera doubled and scored on Featherston's two-out single.

A wild pickoff throw made the Blaze's game-tying run in the seventh unearned, but Bakersfield more than reciprocated Modesto's generosity by handing the Nuts the chance to win the game in the eighth.

Brooks Pinckard hit the first two batters he faced in the inning. Casteel came to the plate willing to give himself up to move the runners along, but instead worked a walk to load the bases.

Kyle McMyne entered for the Blaze and was greeting by a first-pitch sacrifice fly by Tyler Massey. One out later, Story's two-run single completed the game-winning uprising.

"We executed at the plate today," Sakata said. "That's why close games are often the best games for development because you have to use all the things you teach about playing the game the right way."

And for Story, it was a chance to turn the page and get on with the rest of the season. Story believes he's making the correct adjustments at the plate, so it's just a matter of time before he and his teammates start getting hot.

"Early in the year I was getting myself out, but that probably had a lot to do with the good pitching we've seen," Story said. "Even though hitters never seem to want to give credit to the pitchers when they get you out, we have seen good pitching.

"It's been a tough year so far, but we're looking to turn it around."

Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek

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