Nuts end difficult season with a gem

09/01/2014 5:13 PM

09/02/2014 1:56 AM

Walking off the field after what easily was their best all-around performance of the season, the Modesto Nuts couldn’t help but share a single thought:

Let’s play another 140 games.

On the other hand, Matt Flemer, who pitched the team’s first complete-game shutout of the season on a warm Labor Day afternoon to beat Stockton 8-0, said no.

“I don’t think my arm would be up for it,” said Flemer, whose 106-pitch four-hitter against the California League’s best team ended Modesto’s dismal season on an emphatic high note.

“This makes it easier to go back home for the offseason,” said the Cal graduate and El Cerrito resident. “You can feel good about how you did, based on your last performance, and the team as a whole can do that.”

In pitching the league’s fifth shutout and seventh complete game, Flemer was able to notch his staff-leading 13th win, getting Ports slugger Renato Nunez to hit a pop fly to end the game.

Had Nunez reached base, Flemer would have come out, and no one was rooting harder for that third out than Nuts manager Don Sneddon.

“It couldn’t happen to a better guy,” Sneddon said. “He’s been the most positive guy in here all season, win or lose, and has been the guy picking up the rest of the players when things weren’t going well.

“He was very close to his pitch limit, but I was going to give him every opportunity and every pitch possible for him to be able to get the complete-game shutout.”

Modesto (43-97) long ago clinched the worst record in franchise history while missing the playoffs for only the second time in 10 seasons as a Colorado affiliate. So the process of cleaning out lockers began before the first pitch, and perhaps as a result the Nuts came out entirely relaxed against Stockton starter Dylan Covey.

After Covey worked a perfect first inning, Modesto sent 10 batters to the plate in a five-run second, with Michael Ramirez chasing home three runs with a double to left-center.

Francisco Sosa had a two-run double in the third, and Jordan Ribera’s RBI double in the fourth already was Modesto’s seventh extra-base hit.

Sosa finished with three hits, while Ribera, Dean Espy and Juan Ciriaco had two apiece. Ciriaco, who lined two triples, will enter the 2015 season with an active 18-game hitting streak.

“It makes it easier when you get up 7-0 after three, and it allows me to do what I do best, which is to throw strikes and attack the zone,” Flemer said. “Stockton’s a good hitting team, and you have to stay on them because they can put up crooked numbers as fast as we did.”

Flemer sailed after allowing two singles in the first. He allowed only two infield singles over the final eight innings and had streaks of 12 and 11 consecutive batters retired. He struck out nine, didn’t walk a batter and needed only 36 pitches to get through the final four innings.

“We know all the situations of this, and how it was getaway day, how it was 95 degrees out there,” Sneddon said. “But Flemer also could have fallen into that trap and he didn’t. He pitched like it was the first game of the year.”

Alas, it was game 140. And while the feeling of the season-ending masterpiece is something the Nuts will be able to carry into the offseason, the bottom line is that this was a team that set several records in the wrong columns.

But on this final day, it didn’t matter.

“Everybody in here is pulling the same rope, and when you get 25 guys doing that, it makes it easy to come to the yard every day,” Flemer said. “No day this season ever felt long. We hit some skids along the way this season, but the guys were always loose and always getting ready to play. That’s all you can ask of a team.”

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