Chaz Roe climbed atop the mound for the sixth inning, took a quick peek at the scoreboard and suddenly felt like a stranger in a great new world.
The 20-year-old Modesto Nuts right-hander entered the game as one of the least-supported starters in the California League, and his 1-8 record had more to do with Modesto's lack of hitting than anything he'd allowed.
For one night, however, he was in fantasy land, as his team's batting slump took a vacation just in time to stake him to a nine-run lead en route to Tuesday's 11-4 victory over Rancho Cucamonga.
How strange was that lead for Roe?
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In 15 previous starts covering 89 innings, the Nuts never had given him more than four runs of support while he was in the game. He never had a lead of greater than three runs in any previous start, and here he was scaling the mound with an 11-2 lead.
"You still have to treat it like a zero-zero ballgame — go out there, do the job and keep throwing," said Roe (2-8.) "But pitching with that kind of lead, if they suddenly get one or two hits off you it's no big deal.
"I do feel so much more comfortable with a lead. I'm more relaxed. The first inning was kind of tough because my adrenaline was pumping hard. I had to settle down, focus and get back in the game."
Rancho Cucamonga parlayed two hits and a walk into two first-inning runs against Roe, and Modesto appeared headed toward another bad evening when Eric Young Jr. led off the bottom of the inning with a single, and promptly got picked off at first.
Two pitches later, Chris Nelson pumped life into the team when he turned on a 2-1 offering from Quakes starter Francisco Rodriguez (2-7) and smacked it over the wall in left.
"We had lost four games in a row and we're down 2-0 after a lousy first inning, then we get a guy picked off," Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein said. "For me, the biggest play of the game was when Chris Nelson left the yard. It picked us up and got us back in the game."
Doubles by Lino Garcia and Daniel Carte tied the game in the second, then the Nuts really caught fire. Neil Wilson's three-run homer in the third gave Modesto a 5-2 lead, and Nelson tripled home a run in a two-run fourth.
The offensive explosion got ridiculous in the fifth, when doubles by Carte, Kyle Blumenthal and Justin Nelson were wrapped about Travis Becktel's home run as the lead was pushed to 11-2 in the fifth.
Every Nut had at least one hit and scored at least one run bv the sixth inning — quite the explosion for a team that had scored a total of nine runs in its last four games, all losses.
"There were a lot of big plays tonight, but we had been bad lately, had a bad inning and then answered back," Weinstein said.
After the game, the Nuts' skipper was wearing the 10 o'clock shadow of someone who hadn't shaved all day. Was his non-action of avoiding the razor a reason for his team's offensive output? And if, so, would he be skipping the blade for another day?
"That's baseball," he said. "I didn't shave today, but I'm shaving right now. I don't believe in that kind of stuff."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or at 578-2300.