MODESTO — Twenty games is not a great span of baseball time, but its all the Modesto Nuts had remaining in the regular season heading into Tuesdays game.
It is enough time for the Nuts to secure a playoff berth and just perhaps help them forget the bulk of a season in which a productive two-out hit seemed as rare as a Class-A road trip starting at an airport.
The Nuts won 9-3 over San Jose, with all nine runs scoring after the second out in the inning had been recorded.
That flurry of big hits, which included a game-busting three-run homer by Harold Riggins, gave starter Tyler Anderson (1-2) all he needed to notch his first win in an injury-interrupted season.
We have a good team with a lot of good guys who work on their craft every day, said Riggins, taken by Colorado in the seventh round two years ago out of North Carolina State.
I think if we can play the way we have been lately and continue to work, and not fall off like a lot of teams do at this point of the season, and keep playing for each other, well have a good shot at reaching the playoffs.
Yes, its time for scoreboard-watching, and the Nuts win allowed them to maintain their half-game lead over Visalia in the battle for the second-half title in the North Division, which is the teams most direct path to the postseason.
Modestos second access route to the playoffs is the wild card, and the Nuts continue to trail Stockton by two games in that race.
But the bottom line is that despite all the travails on and off the field this season, Modesto is in control of its own playoff destiny.
And Riggins isnt alone in liking the Nuts chances to play past Labor Day.
Over the last three weeks to a month this club has started to swing better in those key situations, said manager Fred Nelson. The strikeouts are still there, but the quality of at-bats and the bigger hits the ones with two out and runners on base have picked-up.
Anderson was touched in the first by Ryan Cavens solo homer to left, but the Nuts answered in the second when Jordan Riberas two-out double was followed by Will Swanners bloop single to right.
Modesto pulled away with a four-run fourth off Jason Forjet (3-3,) who was making an emergency start. Kyle Crick, San Franciscos 2011 first-round pick, was a late scratch from the start with back soreness.
Brian Humphries and Jared Simon led off with singles, and Trevor Story drew a walk to load the bases. One out later Swanner gave the Nuts a 2-1 lead with a sacrifice fly, and Riggins followed by driving a 3-2 outside fastball over the fence just to the right of the batters eye for a 5-1 lead.
The blast was a milestone of sorts for the North Carolina State product. Riggins batting average has hovered around .230 most of the season and he leads the California League with 171 strikeouts, but he also has cleared fences 20 times.
It has been on my mind, Im not going to lie I do think about 20 home runs now and then, said Riggins, who hit 19 for Asheville in an injury-shortened 2012 season. Im just trying to have good at-bats, to see the ball and to get back to whats been working for me lately. Its good to get it going.
Modesto kept its two-out magic going by adding two in the fifth on Storys two-out, two-run triple and two more in the sixth when newcomer Matt Wessinger poked a two-out single to right.
In all, it amounted to a gluttonous portion of two-out production for a team that entered the game hitting only .209 in those situations.
The pitching has been pretty solid with just the occasional bump, and the guys have stepped it up with the bat, Nelson said.
We had Harolds three-run homer and Storys two-run triple and the big base hit by Wessinger thats what you need right there. If you can do that it makes it tough to struggle over long periods of time.
Or even shorter periods of time. Say, 20 games.
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek