STOCKTON — The most difficult three months of Cole Garner's baseball career officially ended when the June page was ripped from the calendar.
Sunday brought July, and Garner used the occasion to have a game worth remembering. The first-year switch-hitter doubled as a lefty in a five-run fourth, and hit a grand slam at a righty in a tie-breaking six-run seventh as the Modesto Nuts clobbered the Stockton Ports 17-10 at Banner Island Ballpark.
Jose Valdez returned from the disabled list with a four-hit game, while Neil Wilson had two homers among his four hits, and Lino Garcia also homered as the Nuts enjoyed their largest run output this season.
But no one had a larger single swing of the bat than Garner, who turned an already-wild game back in Modesto's favor with his slam.
"It was huge not just because it was a big hit, but because of the guy who hit it," Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein said. "He's endured some bad at-bats and to his credit he's hung in there. He understands the process here."
Garner hit .302 with 19 homers last season in Asheville as a right-handed hitter, but made the career move to become a switch-hitter this year. As expected, it has been a difficult transition. He was hitting .173 left-handed and .200 right-handed entering Sunday and was hitless in his last 18 at-bats overall.
"It feels good to have a solid game, and this is about the time last year I started to come around," Garner said.
The Ports had rallied from a 6-0 deficit to tie the game 6-6 in the sixth, but the Nuts came right back against Leonard Landeros (0-1). The former Modesto Athletic walked three to fuel the inning and gave up RBI singles to Daniel Carte and Valdez before Garner stepped to the plate with two outs.
On a 2-2 pitch, Garner found a high fastball to his liking and crushed a soaring drive to left. It was kept in the stadium only by a billboard perched 30 feet beyond the left-field wall, and staked the Nuts to a 12-6 lead.
"It is a groove thing," Garner said. "I get maybe 2-3 at-bats a week right-handed, and when I get up there I tend to press and try to do too much. We work both sides in batting practice every day, but it's not the same."
The Nuts, who scored 11 runs in Chaz Roe's last start, staked the lanky right-hander to a 6-0 lead. This time he couldn't hold it.
Wilson singled home Chris Nelson in the first, and Modesto added five more in the fourth off reliever T.J. Franco. Valdez drove in a run with a single, and Garcia followed with a long home run to left field to make it 4-0. After a walk and a double by Garner, Eric Young's ground ball scored one run, and the fifth run of the inning scored on an infield error.
Stockton immediately answered with its own five-spot in the fourth. When Raul Padron's second homer of the game left the park in the sixth, the Ports had pulled even at 6-6.
Roe (3-8) was not going to be coming out for the seventh, so he was the greatest beneficiary of the Nuts' six-run explosion.
After Stockton scored one in the seventh, Modesto pulled away with a four-run eighth that included Wilson's opposite-field homer to right, and finished up in the ninth with Wilson's solo shot to left.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 578-2300.