MODESTO — The Modesto Nuts' Independence Day fireworks game, whether played on the 3rd or 4th, always brings out a lot of first-time patrons.
It's up to the home team to give their new fans something to remember, something to entice a return trip, which they did with a late-inning rally that fell short in Wednesday night's 7-6 loss to San Jose.
Modesto left two runners in scoring position in the eighth, then stranded David Kandilas at third base with one out in the ninth after the Aussie had brought the Nuts within a run with a triple.
Brian Humphries was jammed and popped out to third base for the second out, and Taylor Featherston followed with a scorching line drive that was snared at third base by Myles Schroder for the final out.
"The kids battled hard and made it close and we had a couple of chances to go ahead, but we're still waiting for that one big hit, which is the difference between winning and losing," said Nuts' manager Lenn Sakata.
But in the end it was the visiting Giants who provided the crowd with a reason to hold on to their ticket stubs, giving the sellout crowd of 4,781 with a possible I-saw-him-when moment with the presence of Kyle Crick.
Crick, 20, was the 49th player taken in the 2011 draft, grabbed by San Francisco directly out of Sherman (Texas) High School.
Since then, the the 6 foot, 4 inch, 220-pound right-hander has emerged as the top prospect in the San Francisco organization. Crick (1-1) is being eyed as an arm capable of riding the same fast track to the rotation previously taken by Madison Bumgarner.
"Bum and (Matt) Cain, everybody in the organization looks up to those guys," Crick said. "It's all encouraging. I've pitched well, and that's why I'm in High-A. You want to get as many innings as I can at every level, so my goal is just to pitch as well as I can at every stop I make."
His progress this season has been slowed by an oblique strain, but he showed no lingering effects of the injury against the Nuts, limiting the home team to three runs on four hits over six innings while notching 10 strikeouts with a fastball that reached 98 mph.
Crick did allow his first High-A home run, a solo blast by Ryan Casteel in the fourth, but even then Crick was able to adjust, going away from his fastball and getting outs and swing-throughs with his offspeed pitches showing mound moxie beyond his years.
"I did feel good tonight," Crick said. "I had decent command of my offspeed, which kept them honest. I started leaving the fastballs up and they were hitting them, so I had to adjust. Modesto made me throw my offspeed stuff, which is a difference from my last few starts."
Modesto starter Chris Jensen (2-5) gave up an unearned first-inning run, but cruised into the fourth inning locked in a 1-1 tie thanks to an RBI double by Trevor Story.
Jensen, a mid-season All-Star, has allowed at least four earned runs in every start since the break, and paid the price for missing high in the strike zone in the fourth inning. Five straight Giants collected hits, with Devin Harris launching a three-run homer to give San Jose a 5-1 lead.
"Some of it is pitch selection," Sakata said. "It comes down to throwing the right pitch and executing it, but he left some balls up and got hit over the fence. It was a tough inning, but that's pitching and that's baseball. Overall he was better tonight except for that one inning."
Casteel answered with his team-leading 16th home run of the season in the bottom of the inning, but the Nuts were playing catch-up the rest of the way.
The Nuts scratched out single runs in the seventh and eighth, stranding runners in both innings. Jose Casilla the younger brother of San Francisco reliever Santiago Casilla responded by striking out Trevor Story to end the eighth-inning threat.
Casilla walked the tightrope in the ninth to save Crick's first California League win while pulling the Giants into a first place tie with the Nuts by completing the three-game sweep.
The next time Nuts fans will get a chance to see Crick pitch will be in the July 14 Futures Game, at which Crick will be a US roster mate of Nuts' starter Eddie Butler.
And if he continues his rapid development, he could be at AT&T Park very soon. Until then, Crick said he wants to continue enjoying the ride.
"All our pitching guys just stress throwing strikes and getting through innings with a minimal pitch count, which is really what I'm focusing on," Crick said. "If I can get through an inning in 15 pitches or less, then I've reached my goal."
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek
Add Merced High grad Eddie Gamboa to the list of professional pitchers notching recent no-hitters. Read Brian VanderBeek's blog at modbee.com/blogs