When you commit five errors in one inning, you deserve to lose, which is why the Modesto Nuts’ couldn’t be too upset over Sunday’s loss to Inland Empire.
But the sloppiness of that game doesn’t come close to one of the most bizarre games I’ve covered at John Thurman Field, dating all the way back to Aug. 7, 1999.
That Modesto A’s team clearly was the best in the California League – going 44-28 to win both halves – and would have won it all except for a flurry of injuries in the final two weeks of the regular season that took away their speed and power.
But on one Sunday evening, they showed how bad and good they could be, on the same night.
Against the San Jose Giants, the Li’l A’s committed nine errors, issued eight walks, threw two wild pitches and had a passed ball.
It maybe was their worst game of the season, but they won 10-9 as Ryan Ludwick had two doubles and a triple and drove in four runs. Other future major leaguers in the lineup that night for Modesto included Miguel Olivo, Jason Hart, Oscar Salazar and Esteban German. Eric Brynes, who won the league batting title that season, had been promoted, only to come back for the postseason.
There even was a major league manager in the dugout, with Bob Geren calling the shots in his only season at the Modesto helm. He would move up to manage the inaugural Sacramento RiverCats in 2000, staying there three years.
And after that nine-error game, Geren had very little to say about his team’s performance.
"When you play that bad and win ... I guess we're just that good," Geren said to me after the game. "I don't know. I do know that I have a headache. I'm trying to think of something, anything, good about this game except the score -- and I can't.”
Then, suddenly, he did think of two positive things.
"We won, and it's over."
But the five errors committed by the Nuts were not the only strange and memorable part of Sunday’s game.
As recounted by Bee sports writter Joe Cortez, with the 66ers holding a 7-4 lead in the eighth inning home plate umpire Lewis Williams was hit with a 94 mph fastball from Nuts’ reliever Bruce Kern. Williams turned and threw his mask into the dirt, visibly upset. According to Nuts catcher Alex San Juan and manager Don Sneddon, Williams felt it was done intentionally, despite the fact that the ball was in the dirt.
Williams ended up ejecting San Juan and hitting coach Jon Stone, who Williams thought was yelling from the dugout.
All ejections are subject to an automatic fine from the California League, and that fine generally is levied the following day. But as of Tuesday, neither San Juan nor Stone had been fined by the league office.
I’ve heard of cases of catchers getting umpires hit on purpose, but have never seen it. And in all cases, the umpires were hit with a high fastball - one in which the catcher was crossed-up and expecting a curve (wink, wink.) If the Nuts were trying to get the umpire hit, which by all accounts wasn’t the case, they wouldn’t have done it with a pitch in the dirt.