Michael Benjamin Jr., the proud father, posed for photographs with 2-month daughter Emery. The game, decided by one swing of Benjamin’s bat, further improved his mood.
His first-inning home run gave Benjamin’s other family – the Modesto Nuts – their first reason to smile in a week. They snapped a six-game losing streak by beating Stockton 1-0 at John Thurman Field, an important victory for a team in desperate need of one.
“This is a team that can easily put up 10 hits a game,” Benjamin said. “We’re a better team than how we’re playing right now.”
True, but the Nuts – one game ahead of Stockton in the wild-card race with 24 games to go – refused to sweat another low-energy night with the bats.
Music returned to the Modesto clubhouse, and quickly at that. The Nuts dispatched Stockton in 1 hour, 59 minutes in front of 2,011 fans.
Benjamin reversed a 94-mph fastball from Stockton starter Kyle Finnegan (6-8) over the wall in left for his ninth home run. As it turned out, that’s all slow-kicking lefty Kyle Freeland needed.
Freeland (1-0), one of the Colorado Rockies’ prized prospects, blanked Stockton for seven innings. He struck out four, walked none and induced three of Stockton’s four ground-ball double plays.
Johendi Jiminian and closer Matt Carasiti (17 saves) finished the job, though the slim lead intensified matters. Modesto, outhit 7-5, scored only 12 runs during its six-game slide. In fact, 14 consecutive Nuts hitters were retired at one point.
“A couple of us are swinging a good bat. One good game will get us going again,” Benjamin said. “It takes a whole lineup to win ballgames this late in the season.”
Modesto’s victory resonated for other reasons. Its season series with Stockton is knotted 7-7 with eight matchups left. The Nuts, strung by difficult losses to the Ports on Tuesday and Wednesday, put down a marker for their neighborly rivals to see.
The Nuts trail Visalia by one game in the North Division, so they also chase another playoff option. That said, those eight remaining Nuts-Ports games – capped by four at Stockton to end the regular season – probably will decide who advances and who heads home.
Notes – California League All-Star Antonio Senzatela (7-6, 2.43) starts for Modesto against lefty Tyler Pike (3-5, 4.18) as the Nuts and the Bakersfield Blaze begin a three-game series Friday night at Thurman. ... Pike, who’s spent time this season with Seattle’s Double A team in Jackson, Tenn., has beaten Modesto twice this summer ... Nuts center fielder and leadoff man Raimel Tapia, given the night off Wednesday as he nursed a sore hamstring, was back in the lineup Thursday night. ... Stockton infielder Tyler Ladendorf, who appeared in four games for the A’s before he suffered a broken ankle in late April for Triple A Nashville, went 0 for 9 during rehab games Wednesday and Thursday.