The sellout crowd of 4,164 that greeted the Modesto Nuts in their home opener Thursday night came out to remember how much fun can be had watching minor league baseball.
And if they stayed until the end, that fun was instantly doubled.
A two-run, ninth-inning rally, all accomplished after two outs, allowed the Nuts to complete a rally from a three-run deficit and defeat Rancho Cucamonga 6-5 at John Thurman Field.
Designated hitter Sean Dwyer, a surprise addition to the Modesto roster at the end of spring training, chased home the winning run with a line drive single to right-center, bringing an end to the Nuts’ season-opening seven-game losing streak.
“We’ve been playing well but we haven’t been able to get it done,” said Dwyer, who made the jump from short-season Tri-City to Modesto. “Things tonight finally went our way. It was tough. Nobody likes to lose, but I think we’ve done a good job of staying with who we are and continuing to do our jobs.”
There was no head-hanging in the Nuts’ dugout, not even after the first two runners were retired in the bottom of the ninth by Quakes’ reliever Luis Meza. Wilson Soriano gave the home side hope with a single over second base, and Trevor Story followed with a walk.
Rosell Herrera then smoked a hard line drive directly at first baseman Chris Jacobs, who had the ball go off his glove and down the line, allowing Soriano to score the tying run and chasing Story to third.
Dwyer followed with his gap-splitting line drive, which was the cue for the Modesto players to stream out of the dugout with the enthusiasm of a team starving for a win.
“Those seven games on the road feel like they never really happened,” said Don Sneddon after notching his first win as a professional manager.
“It was great to have a terrific fan base behind us and win a ballgame like that with the fireworks going off afterward. That’s the excitement I’m looking for and it was a good day for Modesto baseball.”
The Nuts jumped on Quakes starter Lindsay Caughel for two very quick runs on first-inning doubles by Story, Herrera and Will Swanner, but Caughel allowed only two hits over the next five innings.
That was long enough for Rancho to score five unanswered runs off Andrew Brown. Brown breezed through three hitless innings before giving up five runs on seven hits – six for extra bases – before being pulled with no outs in the sixth.
Tyler Gagnon, who won 11 games for Modesto as a starter in 2013, pitched to two batters in the sixth before being pulled with a twinge in his pitching shoulder, and Shane Broyles got the Nuts out of the sixth trailing 5-2.
The Quakes would get only two singles the rest of the way, with Broyles getting right outs before giving way to Rayan Gonzalez (1-0) for the ninth.
Modesto sliced the deficit to 5-4 in the bottom of the inning when Sean Dwyer doubled and Swanner launched a long, opposite-field home run to right-center.
But when the Nuts stranded two runners in the seventh and lost another potential rally in the eighth on a baserunning mistake, it appeared that Modesto was on its way to an eighth straight loss.
Then, something magical happened. Or maybe it was just the fortune that comes with finally being home in front of a large and energetic crowd.
In any case, Sneddon couldn’t think of a better way to his team to get off the schneid.
“We hit on the road but we didn’t get quite the pitching we needed,” Sneddon said. “Tonight we got enough pitching to make it happen and after this the monkey is off the guys’ backs. I think you’ll see a whole different team play from now on.”
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150. His blog is at www.modbee.com/brianvanderbeek.