MODESTO — It was 20 minutes before first pitch when several Inland Empire players strolled across the parking lot at John Thurman Field to watch a small fire consume dry grass along the banks of the Tuolumne River.
Once inside the ballpark, those same 66ers players got to witness something really hot.
The Modesto Nuts won for the 14th time in 16 games, claimed their ninth straight home win and moved ever closer to a second-half title by riding a seven-run seventh inning to an 11-6 victory.
Will Swanner and Taylor Featherston both launched two-run homers as the Nuts now have a magic number of 2 to clinch the California League North Division second-half crown over San Jose.
With five games remaining in the regular season all at home 2 also is the magic number to eliminate Stockton from the wild card race.
The way the team is going right now, the most difficult part of the day for the Nuts' staff is filling out the lineup card. In this game, every starter scored at least one run, six drove-in runs and five had extra-base hits.
"We're struggling to make out the lineups," said manager Fred Nelson. "A lot of times you give guys a rest because they're struggling or going through a dry period. But right now it doesn't matter.
"We ended up having the team's leading hitter (Brian Humphries) batting ninth. Really, we don't worry a lot about how we run out the lineup because they're all producing."
Humphries, who had both his hits in the seven-run uprising, was one of those guys back in May when this team was struggling to repeat the mantra that it was just a matter of time before the group started to roll.
And that timing couldn't have been better.
"It was all a matter of time before it came together and we've been doing a good job the last month," said Humphries, whose .302 average leads the team and ranks 10th in the league.
The Nuts' biggest inning of the season came at the expense of Cal State Stanislaus product Eric Cendejas, who was in a position to celebrate his 100th career outing with the 66ers.
Instead, the sidewinding righty inherited a 6-4 lead and breezed through the sixth before failing to retire any of the four hitters he faced in the seventh.
Brian Humphries led off with a single and Featherston followed with a game-tying homer to left-center, his 12th. Cendejas was done after Tyler Massey singled and Trevor Story walked on four pitches, but the Nuts were far from finished.
Edward Santos was greeted by Jared Simon's single to load the bases, then Jordan Ribera gave Modesto an 8-6 lead with a solid single up the middle.
One out later, Ryan Casteel doubled home a run, and Humphries drove in two runs with his second hit of the inning, a line-drive double into the right field corner.
Inland Empire, which clinched a wild card berth on Tuesday night, jumped on Nuts starter Ben Alsup early to take a 3-0 lead into the fourth.
Swanner's home run off 66ers starter Orangel Arenas pulled Modesto within 3-2, then the Nuts took a 4-3 lead in the fifth when Tyler Massey smacked a two-run triple to center.
Alsup left with two outs and two aboard in the sixth, still in line to grab what would have been a league-leading 13th win, but 66ers catcher Anthony Benboom greeted Kraig Sitton with a single that plated two runs thanks an error.
Inland Empire added a run off Sitton (6-5) in the seventh to take a 6-4 lead before the Nuts went off for their biggest inning of the season a rally started and finished by Humphries.
"It's a great feeling right now," said the Pepperdine University product. "It doesn't matter what happens on the field as long as we win, and we haven't lost much in the last few weeks."
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek