Mike McKenry was greeted in the Modesto Nuts clubhouse with the first pie-in-the-face of the season -- an honor that goes only to heroes.
But if the team wanted to be honest and plant pies in the faces of everyone who came up big in Modesto's 5-4 victory over San Jose on Monday, the clubhouse would be a complete mess and the team would be out of shaving cream.
The Nuts, virtually lifeless for eight innings, thrilled what remained of an opening-night sellout crowd of 4,177 with a four-run ninth inning that no one could have seen coming. McKenry's hit -- a sharp single over shortstop -- was only the last of several big blows.
"We needed that," manager Jerry Weinstein said. "It shows that these guys are resilient, and it's the kind of game that can springboard you."
This was a team that displayed little offensive punch as it dropped three of four over the weekend in Stockton, but all of that changed quickly against the defending California League champs.
The Nuts managed only one hit over the previous four innings before Michael Paulk (Hero No. 1) led off the ninth with a double to right off San Jose reliever Craig Whitaker (0-1). Victor Ferrante (Hero No. 2) followed with a blast off the scoreboard to narrow the gap to 4-3. It was Modesto's first home run of the season. In 2007, the Nuts didn't homer at home until April 26 -- their 14th home game.
"It came at the right time," Ferrante said. "I'm glad I didn't have to wait until May to hit it."
Following a strikeout, Whitaker hit Cole Garner with a pitch, then walked Matt Repec. Closer Juan Trinidad got Nick Haley on a pop fly, but (Hero No. 3) Anthony Jackson -- in his first pro game in front of the hometown crowd -- singled to center to score Garner with the tying run.
"That felt good in front of my family," Jackson said. "We just dug deep inside and decided to show what we had deep inside."
With the runners moving up on the throw to the plate, Geoff Strickland was walked intentionally to load the bases, setting the scene for Hero No. 4 McKenry.
"We have great team chemistry here," McKenry said. "We got big hits from Ferrante and A.J. I've played against Trinidad for two years now, and I know he can be dominant, so it felt good to get a good piece of the ball off him. But our bullpen kept us in the game."
Yes, add heroes 5-7 to the mix.
After starter Shane Lindsay threw 49 pitches and allowed four runs in the second inning, the Modesto bullpen of Andrew Graham (four innings), Will Harris and Andrew Johnson kept San Jose from adding to its lead, making the ninth-inning heroics a possibility.
"We know we can do it, so this will help us the rest of the season," Jackson said. "On the other hand, let's not make a habit of being down three runs in the ninth inning. How about being up three runs?"
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.