Nuts rally to clinch wild-card berth

Magic number to claim second-half title is 1

bvanderbeek@modbee.comSeptember 6, 2013 

— The Modesto Nuts honored the senior citizens in their fan base Friday night, and the scene carried well past the Nuts' 6-3 victory over Stockton.

With Modesto already having clinched a wild-card playoff berth with the win, the players reinvented a scene from the clubhouses of the 1930s, adding a modern twist by gathering around a laptop to listen to the final innings of San Jose's game against Inland Empire.

The lure of the spoken word was that a loss by San Jose would give the Nuts the second-half title in the California League's North Division for the second straight season.

And since the team previously had decided not to break out the celebratory bubbly until the division had been won, they stayed around.

Several lingered in the clubhouse, while others came back out onto the field to listen to the game over the stadium public address system, joined by a few hardy fans from the original sellout crowd of 4,088.

The bubbly eventually had to stay packed away, since San Jose scored in the 11th inning to grab a 7-6 victory. The players retreated to the clubhouse, with more work to do.

One more Modesto win or one more San Jose loss over the final three games of the season will secure that second-half title and the spoils of first-round homefield advantage.

But the fact that every one of the Nuts' players stayed around an hour after their final pitch speaks volumes about how these players have come together during the marathon of the 140-game season.

"This says a lot about our team," said Harold Riggins, who ignited Modesto's rally from a 3-0 deficit with a fifth-inning home run.

"The season is coming to a close and it's real easy for guys to think about the future and what's going on after the season. But these guys still want to be here and work and still want to win games. There's a want to win that never lets up."

Across the clubhouse, Fred Nelson, who came to Modesto in an advisory role and became the manager when Lenn Sakata was fired by Colorado in early July, sat back and marveled at what he'd witnessed since switching offices.

"We talk about how a team pulls together when it wins and everybody benefits as opposed to individual accomplishments," Nelson said.

"The individual accolades are forgotten very quickly. It's the team stuff that sticks around forever. You can't ever take that away. It's special and it's something you never know if you'll have the chance to experience again."

Modesto starter T.J. Oakes, making his High-A debut, got through five innings, allowing three runs on four hits while striking out seven.

He left with two aboard and nobody out in the sixth, with the score 3-1 after Riggins' 22nd homer of the season. Nelson Gonzalez (5-6) not only stranded those runners, but threw three hitless innings to give the Nuts hope.

Modesto took advantage of three Ports errors in the sixth to take a 4-3 lead, with Jared Simon and Jordan Ribera driving in runs, and added insurance when Tyler Massey smacked a two-run, two-out double in the eighth.

That set the stage for Scott Oberg to pitch a scoreless ninth, in the process tying 2009 closer Craig Baker for the all-time Modesto record of 33 saves.

"As good as it felt out there, it still will get better, but it's been awesome to be a part of this team, especially the way we've been playing this month — coming through in every at-bat, every situation and the defense is to the wall," Oberg said.

At that point, all ears turned toward the Internet broadcast from San Jose. And although that decision didn't come down in Modesto's favor, no one was too upset.

"I enjoy being around all these guys," Riggins said. "Most of us have been together for two years. The chemistry we have and the camaraderie we've built is unlike any other team I've been around, including my college team."

And Nelson couldn't have agreed more.

"It's really hard to win," Nelson said. "It really is. We've played 137 games to get to this point and we're still listening to the radio."

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

Postgame scoring change in San Jose takes ERA co-title from Nuts' Winkler. Read Brian VanderBeek's blogat modbee.com/blogs

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