Modesto Nuts fall short against Lancaster

Modesto's wild rally in ninth inning stopped by umpire's blown call

bvanderbeek@modbee.comAugust 7, 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 were in the middle of what would have been a rally for the ages, and then blue happened.

There was a lot of sloppiness that led to Modesto trailing Lancaster by six runs heading into the bottom of the ninth of what eventually became an 8-6 loss, but a team that wants to play beyond the regular season was putting together a magical inning.

They had four runs home, and Harold Riggins was at first base with no outs, representing the tying run.

Pinch hitter Jared Simon took a 3-1 strike that must have appeared inside, because infielder Sam Mende — who is on the disabled list — was ejected for arguing from the bench by home plate umpire Derek Eaton.

Simon then hit a slow ground ball into the hole, where shortstop Carlos Perdomo corralled it, bobbled it, double-clutched, then squirted a weak throw to second, where Riggins already was standing upright, having long since completed his pop-up slide.

Base umpire Paul Clemons never hesitated in calling Riggins out, a spirit-dashing, rally-killing call that made fans wonder at which level of tee-ball they'd ever seen a call blown so absurdly.

After the game, Nuts manager Fred Nelson searched for words to describe the emotions of the moment, the team high derailed by the sudden low of the blown call. He gave up.

"I'm not going to comment on it," Nelson said. "Well, he was safe."

First base coach Jay Matthews immediately sprinted toward Clemons, and was ejected two steps over the chalk.

Once order was restored, Kenny Long entered for the JetHawks and struck out both batters he faced, bringing an end to the madness.

Despite the loss, the Nuts held on to their half-game lead over San Jose in the race for the California League North Division second half title. In the bigger picture, they squandered a chance to reach .500 overall for the first-time since mid-April.

"Our guys swung the bats well, hit a lot of balls hard and battled back," Nelson said. "It was too little, too late, but there were some times during the game when the right outcome for us at the right time would have made the difference."

Trevor Story, Taylor Featherston and Will Swanner had two doubles apiece, with Swanner's blast into right-center on an 0-2 pitch driving home the first three runs in the ninth. He scored on Riggins' single.

Overshadowed in the bizarre conclusion was the importance of the night to Nuts starter Tyler Anderson, who after nearly a full season of shoulder problems returned to the Modesto Nuts' mound on Thursday for the first time since May 17.

The Nuts took a 1-0 lead on back-to-back doubles by Featherston and Swanner in the second, which looked like a promising start with Anderson needing only 19 pitches to get the first six outs.

Everything changed quickly in the third, when Joe Sclafani opened with a fly ball to short left-center that centerfielder got to on the dead run, only to drop it. It was ruled a single.

Singles by Luis Alvarez and Dan Gulbransen loaded the bases, and the JetHawks used a walk, a fly ball and ground ball to grab a 3-1 lead, with only one of the runs earned.

Then, with the JetHawks holding a 4-2 lead after four, the Nuts' defense let the game get away.

Story's low throw to first base pulled Riggins off the base, giving Lancaster a leadoff runner. Delino DeShields Jr. followed with a sacrifice bunt back to Anderson, whose shin-high throw to first base was dropped by Riggins for the second error of the inning.

The JetHawks, who are the highest-scoring team in all of professional baseball, thrive on getting extra outs, and they went on to plate three unearned runs to push the margin to 7-2, adding another run in the eighth to take the six-run margin to the ninth.

It ended up being a deficit two runs and a blown call too much to overcome.

"If you're ahead 9-0 and it happens, or you're behind 9-0 and something like that happens, then it's not a big deal," Nelson said. "But that happened in the middle of a rally."

And in the middle of a pennant race.

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

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