STOCKTON — The Modesto Nuts and their fans had a right to be so spoiled by the team's recent success that certain aspects of the game could have been taken for granted.
First, the Nuts would beat the Ports, as they had done nine times in the previous 10 meetings. Second, Jeff Kindel would get a hit, as he had done without fail in 26 consecutive games. And finally, there was no way the Nuts would blow an eighth-inning lead.
But in some kind of unholy planetary misalignment, all three givens were taken away Wednesday night as Stockton scored twice in the bottom of the eighth to grab a 6-5 victory over Modesto.
The Nuts — who had taken the lead with three runs in the top of the eighth — maintained their two-game lead over Visalia in the California League's North Division second-half race, even as their bubble of invincibility burst.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"To Stockton's credit, they came back and did what they needed to do to win, and I suspect that's not what they've been doing lately," said Nuts' manager Jerry Weinstein.
The Ports' winning rally came against reliever Tomas Santiago (2-4), who gave up three singles to load the bases with one out, then walked pinch-hitter Darryl Lawhorn to tie the game 5-5.
Steve Kleen followed with a fly ball to medium left field that allowed Raul Padron to scoot home from third base with the winning run.
Patrick Currin (3-3) was on the mound at the end of the Nuts' three-run rally in the top of the eighth, but worked a perfect ninth to secure his own win.
Modesto had trouble advancing runners around the bases, which was its strong suit in July. Eric Young Jr. led off the game with a double and was stranded at third, then led off the sixth with a single and again was stranded at third. The Nuts did score twice in the fourth when Chris Nelson singled and scored on Daniel Carte's home run to right-center.
But it wasn't until the eighth that the Nuts finally brought Young around to score. He led off the inning and greeted reliever Adam Thomas with his third hit of the game. One out later Justin Nelson walked, and Carte loaded the bases on an infield hit.
Kindel, who had struck out, flown to center and walked in his three previous plate appearances, could have expanded his strike zone to make contact, but instead drew a walk to slice the lead to 4-3.
"You have to play the game the right way and I was just trying to help us win," Kindel said. "The individual stuff happens when you play the game the right way."
Jose Valdez followed with a slow ground ball to third baseman Frank Martinez, whose relay to second baseman Lloyd Turner arrived as the same time Kindel was beginning his hard slide.
The contact with Kindel threw Turner off-balance, and his relay throw to first base was wild, allowing both Justin Nelson and Carte to score for a 5-4 Nuts' lead.
"He was on me as soon as I got the ball," Turner said. "Had I been able to plant, we would have had the double play."
Turner was wearing an ice pack on his left knee because of the collision at second base, but didn't as much as hint that Kindel was doing anything overly aggressive.
"Kindel's a team guy and you saw what he did at second base," Weinstein said. "Perhaps that slide was one of frustration at the end of his streak, but he picked us up big-time by crushing that guy at second."
Beside, with 30 games left in the regular season, there's plenty of time to embark on another streak.
"Every time I came to the plate, the thought of my streak was in the back of my head, and that's a thought I don't need," Kindel said. "Now I can just go back to normal and try to get some hits. We'll also come back as a team tomorrow and try to get the win."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.