MODESTO — Think of all the great birthday parties you had growing up the cakes, the ice cream, maybe ponies, clowns and even bounce houses.
Tyler Massey enjoyed some of those parties growing up in Tennessee, but nothing that compared to the way he celebrated his 24th birthday Sunday night.
The Modesto Nuts' center fielder went 4-for-4 at the plate, including a three-run homer in the sixth inning that propelled the Nuts to a 6-4 victory over Rancho Cucamonga.
"I had some pretty good birthday parties growing up, but I've never had a game like this on my birthday," Massey said. "Having a summer birthday, I always seem to be playing on that day.
"I stayed with my routine today as far as cage work and everything, but I got a few more phone calls from family. I might be calling family and friends every day to keep that part of the routine going."
Calendar celebrations aside, Sunday's victory was huge for the Nuts, coming off a gut-wrenching loss to the Quakes on Saturday. Modesto pitchers issued bases-loaded walks in each of the final three innings of that 7-6 defeat.
"This was a big win coming off a very tough loss," said Nuts manager Fred Nelson. "I think that's the first one like that since I've been here that we just let one get away. There were a lot of pieces that fell apart last night and fell back into place tonight."
Massey is 8-for-13 in Modesto's last three games to raise his average to .270, giving the Nuts a table-setter at the top of the order that has been missing for much of the season.
"I have been feeling a lot better and have been a lot more comfortable at the plate lately, so I'm just trying to finish strong and help the team win some games," Massey said.
"This team has tried to get things rolling all season. We've had some road blocks and we've been through some stuff as a team. If we can just finish strong, we know that if we make the playoffs anything can happen. That's our goal now, to make our way into the playoffs."
For the second straight game the Nuts grabbed a three-run lead after the first inning that they would not be able to hold.
Massey, David Kandilas and Taylor Featherston jump-started the Nuts' offense with singles for a 1-0 lead, then Jared Simon lofted a sacrifice fly ahead of an RBI single by Brian Humphries.
Modesto would not score against Quakes starter Lindsay Caughel (3-6) until the sixth, by which point his teammates had rallied to put him in line for a victory.
Casio Grider hit his first homer of the season, a two-run bolt, in the third, which was followed two batters later by a solo shot off the bat of Bobby Coyle to tie the score 3-3.
Ben Alsup worked the first five innings for the Nuts, allowing those three runs on six hits and five walks to go with five strikeouts. He worked a lot of deep counts and left after throwing 85 pitches.
Modesto would have liked Alsup to go longer into the game, with Eddie Butler and his five-inning limit scheduled to start tonight's rubber game of the three-game series.
Rancho took a 4-3 lead in the sixth with an unearned run off reliever Geoff Parker (4-4). James McDonald reached on a leadoff infield single, then scampered all the way to third on a passed ball charged to Will Swanner.
Quakes leadoff hitter Scott Wingo dropped a perfect suicide squeeze bunt toward first base to plate McDonald with the go-ahead run.
Caughel left in the sixth with runners at first and second and one out, leaving reliever Freddie Cabrera the chance to escape the inning with a well-placed foul ball.
But Massey was the first batter Cabrera faced, and the Nuts' center fielder worked a 3-2 count before turning on a high fastball and lining it well over the fence in right for his eighth homer of the season.
"I'd seen a lot of fastballs in that at-bat and took a good swing at one that wasn't a strike but I had it timed," Massey said. "Just being able to see that many pitches and get deep in counts is what I've tried to do lately.
"We didn't have the crosswind tonight, and that was just another of the blessings that fell into place for me tonight."
NUTS NOTES Massey, looking for a five-hit game, walked in the eighth against Downey High graduate Blake Smith. Modesto went on to load the bases in the inning thanks to an infield error, but Smith turned a comebacker from Featherston into a 1-2-3 double play to end the threat Scott Oberg, who took a blown save and a loss on Saturday, rebounded to work a perfect ninth for his league-best 21st save of the season.