In ceremonies prior to tonight's home opener, the Stockton Ports will raise their 2008 California League championship banner, and the fans will cheer .... then they will turn their attention to this season's 0-7 Stockton Ports.
If it weren't such a heated and traditional rivalry, the punchless Ports might be getting sympathy from fans and players in Modesto.
Nah. Won't happen. Not in the stands or in the dugout.
The Nuts finished taking advantage of Stockton's snake-bitten start to the season Wednesday completing a three-game sweep with a 3-2 matinee victory thanks to single gift runs in the eighth and ninth innings — with the winning run scoring on an outfield error.
Modesto's 6-1 start is the best in the five-year affiliate marriage of Colorado and Modesto, and three of the Nuts' wins have come in their final at-bat. Meanwhile, the Ports have seven runs in seven games and have scored in only four of 63 innings.
"Your best friend on any given day is the manager in the other dugout," said Modesto manager Jerry Weinstein. "You know what's going on over there. But streaks follow streaks and when Stockton gets home they'll be fine because they're a good team."
In this most recent loss, Stockton collected only three hits, but still led 2-1 with two outs and no one on base in the bottom of the eighth.
Modesto tied the game at that point when Brian Rike singled and scored when Jay Cox followed with an "elemental" sun-and-wind double — a pop fly behind second base that knuckled in the stiff breeze and fell when second baseman Frank Martinez lost it in the bright sky.
East Union High School graduate Justin Friend entered to pitch the ninth for Stockton, and walked Modesto's leadoff hitter, Radames Nazario, on a 3-2 pitch.
That brought Lars Davis to the plate in a sacrifice situation, but in a similar setting two innings earlier Davis had struck out after failing to get the bunt down.
This time, Weinstein called off the bunt.
"Even if Lars had gotten the bunt down in his previous at-bat I don't think we would have bunted again, based on where we were in the batting order and with the matchups we had," Weinstein said. "We drew a play in the sand, took a pitch out of the bunt stance, then we squared around on the next pitch, pulled back and did a hit-and-run. It was perfectly executed."
With Nazario on the move and Stockton's shortstop moving toward second base, Davis slapped a hard line drive to left field. Todd Johnson charged the hit for the Ports in an effort to perhaps gun down Nazario at third base. Instead, the ball rolled up Johnson's arm, and Nazario never stopped running.
"I broke with the pitch and was looking for the swing, and as soon as I got to second base I started looking for Jerry," said Nazario. "I was a little bit surprised to see he was waving me home, so I figured the left fielder must have dropped the ball."
Nazario, who became the first Nuts' player with three hits in a game, scored without a throw as his teammates stormed out of the dugout to start the celebration.
The Nuts had 10 hits in the game, but again the heroes came out of the bullpen. Starter Connor Graham allowed two runs through 4 2/3 innings, and Sean Jarrett allowed only one hit over 3 1/3 innings of relief. Randall Taylor pitched a perfect ninth to get the win.
While the Modesto players celebrated, the Ports' collective body language was understandably subdued as they trudged back to the visiting clubhouse. Everybody who has played this game has endured a slump such as the Ports are having, but expressed sympathy is not an accepted part of professional baseball.
"I don't think about what Stockton is going through," Nazario said. "I just keep thinking about our team and how we never get our heads down. Every night we're playing hard for nine innings — the whole game. Since we're playing well and working hard, from there we just have to let it happen."Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.