MODESTO - The Modesto Nuts will have to wait at least one more night to celebrate earning a spot in the playoffs.
Despite crushing four home runs, the Nuts failed in numerous run-scoring situations and fell apart in the 12th to drop an 8-5 decision to Inland Empire at John Thurman Field.
So with four games remaining, it comes down to this:
One victory in any of the last four regular season home games against Stockton will secure Modesto a wild card berth in the California League playoffs.
Any combination of Modesto wins or San Jose losses equaling two will earn the Nuts the second-half North Division title for a second straight season.
The latter option carries the bonus of homefield advantage in the best-of-three first round series against Visalia that would start Wednesday.
The 66ers’ game-winning rally came against Patrick Johnson, the Nuts’ sixth pitcher. It started with a one-out walk, but Inland Empire would go on to two more walks and three hits before the inning was over.
The Nuts had a great chance to win the game in the 11th inning. Brian Humphries missed a game-winning home run to right by about a foot, and had to settle for a double.
He then advanced to third base on a short wild pitch with one out, but home plate umpire Sam Vogt inserted himself into the action by calling batter Taylor Featherston out for interfering with the catcher’s throw to third base.
Replays showed that not only did Featherston not come close to making contact with the catcher, but stood motionless in the right-handed batters’ box after taking the pitch for a ball. Humphries had to retreat to second base, where he was stranded. Vogt made his presence known again in the bottom of the 12th when he ejected 66ers' manager Bill Haselman for arguing balls and strikes from the dugout.
The 66ers then took control in the next half-inning.
Modesto was gifted a rally in the bottom of the 12th on four straight one-out walks issued by A.J. Alvarez. Matt Wessinger struck out on a 3-2 pitch for Modesto's 15th whiff of the game.
Eduard Santos came on to face Humphries, and made him strikeout victim No. 16 to end the game at 11:32 p.m.
Modesto managed only the four runs in regulation despite a power surge seldom seen at John Thurman Field.
The four runs all came via solo homers, from Will Swanner, Harold Riggins, Featherston and Trevor Story.
Nuts’ starter Tyler Anderson worked from behind in the count nearly the entire game, but left after six innings with a chance to get the win.
Inland Empire pushed across a run in the second when league MVP Zack Borenstein doubled and scored on a single by Brian Hernandez. The 66ers would leave runners in scoring position in that inning and in six more innings during the game, stranding 12 runners in all
The Nuts started their power surge in the bottom of the inning against Alex Keudell, who was a teammate of Anderson at the University of Oregon.
With one out, Swanner launched his 12th homer of the season to left-center on a 2-0 pitch, and Riggins followed by crushing a 2-1 fastball deep into the night for his 21st blast of the season.
It marked the first time this season the Nuts had gone back-to-back at home, but the power show wasn’t done. Featherston connected to left-center on the first pitch of the third inning - his 13th - to give Modesto a 3-1 lead.
That margin would stand until the eighth, when the 66ers pushed across three runs against reliever Ryan Arrowood. Michael Snyder’s two-run homer to center tied the score, and Kraig Sitton gave up a two-out RBI single to Sherman Jackson on an 0-2 pitch that gave Inland Empire a 4-3 lead.
That lead was erased quickly, as Story turned on a 3-2 pitch from reliever Ty Kelley to lead off the bottom of the inning, and Story’s 12th home run pulled the game into a 4-4 tie.