For a Modesto Nuts team scraping to put together any kind of consistent offense, the end of Tuesday's 6-5 loss to San Jose came as the ultimate irony — baseball's version of a perverse joke.
With Cole Garner on second base as the potential tying run with two outs in the ninth inning, Kyle Blumenthal delivered a clean single to left field.
How clean? Too clean. And — for the Nuts' purposes — too well-hit. The ball was picked up on the second bounce by Giants' left-fielder Ben Copeland, who threw a one-hop strike to catcher Barry Gunther.
Garner never hesitated at second, but the ball was waiting for him at home and not even the kind of collision that would do Jerome Bettis proud could pry the game-ending out from the safety of Gunther's glove.
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"On a close play I'll usually try to slide around and hit the base with my hand, but he had it blocked and that was my only play," Garner said. "That's six points in a football game."
And the last out for a team whose offense has yet to get started in the first week of the season. Blumenthal's single was Modesto's eighth hit of the game, but as a team the Nuts are hitting only .192 — by far the lowest average in the California League.
"I'm not worried because we have only one way to go," said Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein. "We're going to get better. These guys will hit. These are young guys and this is a process. Young guys tend to be streakier and less consistent because of mechanical and mental issues."
San Jose, meanwhile, is streaking in the other direction, stretching their franchise record season-opening win streak to six games.
The Giants broke a 5-5 tie in the eighth inning with a run off Modesto reliever David Patton (0-3). Patton gave up a single and a walk, and was replaced by Pedro Strop. With two outs, Antoan Richardson lined a single to right to score Anthony Contreras.
For the second consecutive game, the Nuts were silent until the fifth. On Monday, they fell behind 5-0 and were hitless before scoring in the fifth and pecking away to tie the game, only to lose in 12 innings.
On Tuesday, San Jose jumped out to a 4-0 lead and had limited the Nuts to one hit before Modesto rallied and took the lead with its biggest inning of the young season.
Jason Van Kooten, Garner and Lino Garcia singled to load the bases with one out against Giants starter Joe Martinez. After Blumenthal struck out, Eric Young Jr. singled home two runs. Dexter Fowler was hit by a pitch to reload the bases, and Martinez balked in a run before Chris Nelson's single to right-center chased two runs home to give the Nuts a 5-4 lead.
Modesto starter Alan Johnson battled through his six-inning stint, allowing nine hits and a walk, and before he left allowed the Giants to tie the game on a double and Gunther's single to center.
That set the stage for the Giants to stay perfect with their eighth-inning run and the game-ending collision at the plate.
"I just told our guys that if I'm in that situation 100 times, I send the runner 100 times," Weinstein said. "It's not like we're killing the ball, but I'm not worried about that. A .300 hitter doesn't hit .300 every day. That's why it's called an average.
"And have you heard the story about the guy who drowned in the river that only averaged 6 inches deep? We're not drowning."
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 578-2301.