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Modesto wins in crisp fashion

Slugfests are fun and wild endings are memorable, but baseball purists will gladly pay to watch the kind of performance put on Monday night by the Modesto Nuts.

The Nuts were far from flashy, but played errorless ball in the field and parlayed solid situational hitting and good pitching by Xavier Cedeno and two relievers into a 5-1 victory over Stockton, completing a three-game sweep of the Ports.

"That was a Spalding Guide game," Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein said. "Catch it, throw it accurately, put it in play, run the bases aggressively and intelligently ... that's National League baseball at its finest."

The small-ball approach delivered Modesto's 12th win in its last 15 games — a streak that began with a three-game sweep in Stockton. Meanwhile, that sweep greased a slide for Stockton that has produced a 2-13 record in July.

There are 45 games remaining in the second half, but these two weeks have allowed the Nuts to open a 4½-game lead over the Ports in the race for a wild card playoff berth behind first-half champion San Jose.

But that's something to ponder in seven weeks. Right now, the Modesto players appreciate the brand of baseball they're playing on a nightly basis.

"It's fun," said first baseman Jeff Kindel, who homered and drove in two runs. "All the hard work we put in during the first half really didn't pay off every day. But we kept plugging away and it's paying off."

Cole Garner had two of Modesto's seven hits, and drove the ball hard three times from the left side of the plate. But even Garner appreciates the beauty of small ball, especially in the way it causes a team to bond.

"If a guy gets on for you, you want to get him over so the next guy can get him in," Garner said. "It's part of the game, and even though you're giving yourself up it's a good feeling because you know the next guy also is going to do the job and get him in."

Kindel jump-started the offense against Ports starter Michael Rogers (2-4) with anything but a small-ball swing. He hit the first pitch of the second inning over the wall in right for his seventh homer and a 1-0 lead, extending his hitting streak to 12 games.

The Nuts continued to peck away in the third, when Nick Haley and Justin Nelson reached on back-to-back one-out walks and scored on Neil Wilson's single to right-center.

Garner, who ripped a double in the second inning, added a long triple to center field in the third, then strolled home when Kyle Blumenthal delivered a sacrifice fly to the same spot for a 4-0 advantage.

The margin was extended to 5-0 in the fifth when Kindel's sacrifice fly delivered Eric Young Jr., who had led off the inning with a double.

Cedeno (4-5) blanked the Ports on four hits over the first five innings, then escaped serious trouble in the sixth. Stockton loaded the bases when the first three batters reached on a single and two walks. One run scored on a wild pitch, but Cedeno struck out two batters before getting the third on a ground ball.

Andrew Johnston worked the seventh and David Patton got the last six outs to close out the sweep of the series and Modesto's seventh consecutive victory over their valley rivals.

"We had a bunch of guys throw really well in the first half, but it didn't show in their records," Garner said. "You can't judge how those guys were throwing by their numbers. But now it's all coming together pretty well."

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or at 578-2300.

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