MODESTO — Just before coming to bat in the eighth inning, Modesto Nuts catcher Will Swanner was the recipient of some brilliant advice from pitching coach Dave Burba.
Burbs gave me a pep talk in the dugout, telling me to go out there and hit a two-run home run, said Swanner, who had three hits. It was funny, but I wasnt trying to do it. I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit.
Swanner got a pitch and didnt miss it, sending it over the fence down the line in left for a two-run homer that boosted the Nuts to a dramatic 4-3 victory and a rare home series sweep over San Jose.
Above and beyond grabbing a victory with a late hit, this was a huge victory for Modesto.
The Nuts moved to two games ahead of Visalia with 17 games remaining in the race for the second-half title in the North Division and at 62-61 overall are one game over .500 for the first time since starting the season 8-7.
They did it all with the first home sweep of a San Jose series since April, 2008.
San Jose has had great pitching against us all year, and then they go to the bullpen with guys who throw 94-95 consistently, Swanner said. You know youre only going to get one pitch per at-bat to hit, so you better take advantage of it.
The game-winning rally came off reliever Stephen Harrold, who issued a one-out walk to Trevor Story ahead of Swanners blast on a 1-0 offering.
They were throwing me sinkers inside all night, so I was looking inside and got a pitch a little out over the middle and put a good swing on it, Swanner said.
As soon as the ball landed, Modesto closer Scott Oberg got up in the bullpen, and he needed only eight pitches to record his 28th save just five short of the franchise record.
To get the big home run from Will gave us the chance to run Oberg back out there, and that can be demoralizing when you send the leagues best closer out there right after a go-ahead home run, said Nuts manager Fred Nelson.
Kraig Sitton, who has allowed only one run over his last nine appearances, faced only six batters over the seventh and eighth and got the win when Swanner went deep.
Making Swanners homer all the more dramatic was the way San Jose had taken the lead in the sixth.
Nuts starter Chris Jensen breezed through five innings, allowing only three hits. Trevor Brown, playing his first game for San Jose, doubled to lead off the sixth ahead of a walk on a 3-2 curveball to Brock Bond.
One out later, Jensen and Swanner couldnt seem to agree on how to attack first baseman Ricky Oropesa, who turned on a 3-1 inside fastball and drove it well over the fence in right for a gut-punching home run and a 3-2 Giants lead.
We were talking about pitch and location, Swanner said. He wanted to throw one pitch and I wanted another one. We agreed on a pitch and then the location was a little off. Oropesa put a great swing on it and hit the ball well. You dont go low and in on Oropesa.
Modesto took a 2-0 lead with single runs in the second and fourth. Story walked to start the second, and Swanner and Jordan Ribera followed with back-to-back hits to load the bases ahead of Matt Wessingers RBI ground ball.
Two innings later, Swanner and Ribera lashed two-out doubles for a 2-0 lead, but Modesto squandered a chance to add to the lead in the fifth, leaving the bases loaded when Story struck out swinging.
San Jose seemed to take that momentum into the next half-inning, when Oropesa gave the Giants their only lead of the game.
And then, Swanner and the Nuts took it right back to claim what might turn out to be the biggest home victory of the season. If nothing else, it allows Modesto to enter the three-game home series against Bakersfield that starts tonight with a full head of steam.
We have all the confidence in the world and have had it all year, Swanner said. Finally its coming to fruition and its an awesome feeling.
This is how these guys were last year coming back and winning games late. We know we can win games like this, so when we do it gives us a lot of swagger, a lot of confidence.
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek