Modesto stays alive in playoff contention
By Vinnie Longo
MODESTO – “Heartbreaker” is a term that is thrown around at least a few dozen times over the course of a baseball season. Sometimes it’s close game in the midst of a June swoon, sometimes an extra-innings loss on in mid-July. The Rawhide have suffered many tough losses this season; Thursday night, Aug. 30, was a true heartbreaker.
Visalia rode a strong start from Jeff Bain, who gutted his way through six innings and left with a 5-2 lead. But in the bottom of the seventh, Modesto started grinding away their comeback against the Rawhide bullpen.
Mason McCullough walked the first two men he faced, throwing only nine pitches, before he was lifted in favor of West Tunnell. Reigning Cal League Player of the Week Evan White was due up, and though he’d been held hitless in his first eight at bats this series, he rediscovered his balance tonight.
White drew the count full before singling to left field, bringing home Kevin Santa to bring Modesto within one. Then, with the tying run on third and nobody out, Tunnell struck out Luis Liberato in three pitches. Nick Zamarelli stood in and Tunnell’s first breaking ball skipped to the backstop, bringing home Jordan Cowan to make it a 5-4 Rawhide lead.
Tunnell worked past Zamarelli thanks to a diving play by Camden Duzenack at second for the second out, leaving the tying run at third and bringing up Anthony Jimenez. After falling behind Tunnell, Jimenez hit a bounding ball that hopped over the glove of a diving Duzenack, trickling into right field to score White and tie the game at 5.
But the Rawhide offense wasn’t done. In a true see-saw fashion, Visalia roared back with three straight doubles from Renae Martinez, Pavin Smith, and Ramon Hernandez in the top of the eighth to put them back on top, 7-5.
In the bottom of the frame, Erbert Gonzalez was summoned to try and hold the lead. He struck out Manuel Pazos to start the inning, but then the floodgates opened. Gonzalez walked pinch-hitter Jack Larsen and Santa followed by rolling a seeing-eye single past a diving Jasrado Chisholm at short to put the tying run on base.
Cowan followed and single to right, scoring Larson and moving Santa to third. The Rawhide lead was down to 7-6. But once again, White had a chance to come up with a clutch hit. He worked the count full and then slashed a double into left field, plating Santa as the tying run. The ball went into the Visalia bullpen, holding Cowan at third as the potential go-ahead run.
There was still one out, and the Rawhide appeared to have caught a break.
The left-hander Robby Sexton was called upon to face a pair of lefties in Luis Liberato and Nick Zamarelli, hoping to hold the go-ahead run on. But after falling behind with two strikes, Liberato smashed a single up the middle, scoring both Cowan and White and giving Modesto a 9-7 lead, their first advantage of the night.
Visalia loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth and got a bases-loaded walk to Pavin Smith to bring the game within one, but an Adam Walton groundout to short ended the game as a 9-8 loss.
Modesto (60-76/30-36) scored seven runs in two innings against the same Rawhide bullpen that tossed five one-hit shutout frames on Wednesday night. White led the charge for the Nuts with three hits, two doubles, two RBI, and two runs scored.
The Visalia offense got to work early, taking a lead in the second on a sac fly by Pavin Smith and adding on thanks to a solo blast by Stephen Smith (8) in the third. After the first Nuts rally to tie the game after four, Visalia answered back with three unanswered runs, including a solo blast by Ramon Hernandez (19) in the fifth.
Pavin Smith finished the game with two hits and his second four-RBI game of the season. Hernandez put up three hits, his fourth straight multi-hit game, and drove home a pair. Daulton Varsho also added two doubles and scored twice.
Visalia (67-69/30-36) is now tied for second place with Modesto; both teams are two games behind first-place Stockton in the second half standings. The only way that Visalia will miss the playoffs is if Modesto sweeps their series against San Jose and the Rawhide win at least three games in their upcoming three-game set against Stockton. Any other combination of wins and losses will result in a Visalia playoff berth.
The Rawhide head to Stockton on Friday, Aug. 31, to take on the Ports in a four-game series to close out the regular season. First pitch is at 7:10 p.m. and the live radio broadcast will be available on rawhidebaseball.com.