In 2002, the Modesto A’s unveiled a branding effort with the slogan “History in the Making.”
Twelve years later, the 2014 Modesto Nuts aren’t just making history, they’re about to collide with it head-on.
Thursday’s homestand-opening 6-3 loss to Inland Empire not only was the Nuts’ eighth straight defeat but also their 20th in 24 starts.
And here’s where the numbers really get ugly. The Nuts are 31-72 overall and are the first Modesto team ever to be more than 40 games under .500 at any point of a season.
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They’re going to have to post a 21-16 record the rest of the way just to equal the worst record in Modesto minor-league history – the 52-88 mark posted by the Reds of 1946, their second season as a member of the California League.
And this loss was like so many this season. Of the nine hits collected by the 66ers, only two were sharply hit. The rest were balls that found dead spots in the infield or were able to find holes for singles.
Yes, for Modesto this was yet another round of death by a thousand paper cuts.
“That’s what happens when you’re not playing well,” said Nuts manager Don Sneddon. “Everything seems to be going the wrong way.”
If that sounds like a team believing it’s snake-bitten, then you may be hearing the right tone.
“It’s a problem, and we are feeling that,” Sneddon said. “We’re trying to reverse that, and we are in games. Every little thing becomes so big for us, and you start to feel like every close call is going against you. That’s the way it is when a team is struggling.”
Clint Sharp was making his first appearance for the 66ers and was on the ropes in the first inning, when Modesto not only grabbed a 2-0 lead but left the bases loaded and forced Sharp to throw 31 pitches.
Jordan Ribera and Pat Valaika had two-out RBI singles for the Nuts, and Inland Empire had its bullpen going when Matt Wessinger popped out to right field for the third out.
Staked to the 2-0 lead, Jayson Aquino (3-8) immediately surrendered it, giving up three runs on four hits and a hit batter in the second.
This was Aquino’s second straight start against Inland Empire, and the Nuts’ left-hander won’t be gaining most-favored status from the 66ers. In those two games, Aquino has hit seven batters, including three in this outing, all on curveballs.
Given the shaky starts by both pitchers, it was remarkable that both pitched deep into the game. Sharp allowed a game-tying run in the fourth when Derek Jones doubled and scored on two ground balls but lasted six innings and allowed only six hits.
Aquino lasted seven innings, giving up the go-ahead run in the fifth and two more in the sixth – a rally that began with two infield hits. Both runs scored when Mark Shannon cued an 0-2 curveball up the middle against a drawn-in infield.
“That’s what’s happening with this club right now,” Sneddon said. “We took some walk-offs down south. We couldn’t hold a six-run lead. But we’re still battling and we will continue to battle to get all of this turned around.”
Modesto made some noise in the ninth when two-out singles by Jones and Wessinger brought the tying run to the plate against Inland closer Kurt Spomer, but Alex San Juan tapped back to the mound for the final out.
There are 37 games left, and the Nuts need to win at least 21 to avoid standing alone as the worst team record-wise in Modesto history.
“I can’t even think about that right now,” Sneddon said. “If it happens, it happens. We’re just going to try to win every game. We’re not a bad club. We’re not a 100-loss team.
“We’re just a team that just isn’t finding ways to win and instead is finding ways to lose.”
Note – David Dahl, making his Advanced-A debut for Modesto, was hitless in four at-bats but had an outfield assist at third when he gunned down a 66ers runner trying to advance on a medium-deep fly ball to center.