Sports

Nuts can't close door in ninth

2008 Modesto Nuts — Andrew Johnston, Pitcher
2008 Modesto Nuts — Andrew Johnston, Pitcher

Andrew Johnston has been close enough to perfect this season that it has been very easy to take a ninth-inning Modesto Nuts lead for granted.

And that's exactly what made Friday night's 11-10 loss to San Jose so surprising and excruciating for the Nuts.

Johnston entered with a 9-6 lead against the team Modesto is racing to the second-half wire. Five hits and a Johnston error later, the save was blown, perhaps taking a bit of Modesto's July swagger in the implosion.

So you wonder what impact this latest loss will have as the teams continue their three-game series.

"I'm not convinced this will have an effect," said Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein. "We'll show up (today) and this will all be gone. A great example of how to shake off these kinds of games was that Johnston was out signing autographs after the game. He wasn't about to run back into the clubhouse and feel sorry for himself."

And once in the clubhouse, Johnston wasn't making any excuses.

"When you play 140 games you'll just have one of those during the season," he said. "As a closer you have to forget about it. You have to have a short memory because it happens and you have to forget about it."

San Jose greeted Johnston (3-1) with three consecutive singles to cut the Nuts' lead to 9-7. Johnston then slipped while fielding Tyler Graham's sacrifice bunt, and threw the ball down the right-field line. The error brought in one run and moved the tying run to third base.

One out later, Brett Pill's sinking line drive to center got by Anthony Jackson for a two-run double that made it 10-9, and Pill would score on a two-out single by Jackson Williams.

Modesto pushed back in the bottom of the ninth, getting a run when Mike Paulk walked and scored when Matt Repec's fly ball to deep center was dropped for an error. But closer Dan Otero entered to retire Jason Van Kooten on a ground ball to second to end the game.

Modesto put up three runs in the second inning, including two on Victor Ferrante's eighth home run of the season, a line drive to center.

The Nuts then chased San Jose starter Jesse English in a four-run fourth. Van Kooten led off with a pop fly behind shortstop that was lost in the dusk and fell for a double. Ferrante walked, and Travis Becktel doubled to tie the game 4-4.

Jackson followed with a two-run double to end English's outing, and Jackson scored when Paulk singled off reliever Juan Trinidad for a 7-4 lead.

San Jose scored twice off reliever Chris Malone in the sixth to pull within 7-6, and would have tied the game except for a diving catch by Chris Nelson at shortstop that stranded a runner at third.

The Nuts added insurance in the seventh when Michael McKenry was hit by a pitch and went to third on Van Kooten's second double of the night. Ferrante delivered both runners with a two-out single to left-center.

And with Johnston ready to pitch the ninth, the game seemed over.

"It's a humbling game," Weinstein said. "We did a lot of good things tonight, but also some sloppy things."

Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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