In a tremendously nerve-racking, true playoff showdown with the Modesto Nuts, the Bakersfield Blaze jumped out to an early lead, but watched as it slowly slipped away, ultimately falling 3-2 to the Nuts, and seeing the series tied 2-2.
In a pivotal game, and arguably his most important start since his days with Cal State Fullerton, Daniel Renken delivered. The righthander, shrugging off a tough second half of the year, went five strong innings, and left with the lead.
To get to that point, though, there were a number of key moments.
The Blaze struck first, scoring twice in the top of the 4th off Modesto starter Josh Mueller. Back-to-back walks to begin the inning, followed by a fielder's choice grounder, put runners at the corners with one out. Up stepped Dominic D'Anna, who worked a full count, and with the runner, Steve Selsky, going from first, D'Anna bounced a single through the vacated left side of the infield. Then, in a remarkable show of baserunning, Selsky came all the way around to score from first, beating Rafael Ortega's throw to the plate to put the Blaze ahead, 2-0.
Modesto came back in their half, taking advantage of a walk and two singles to plate a run and put runners at the corners with only one out. Then, Renken took control. A strikeout of Dallas Tarleton racked up the second out, and the third out came when Renken bounced a ball in the dirt - the ball jumped high in the air right over the plate, but catcher Chris Berset never saw it. Renken, charging from the mound, collected the ball and slapped the tag on the runner going by to retire the side.
Renken was lifted after five strong innings, and Mike Dennhardt (L, 0-1) entered in the 6th. A pair of singles and a wild pitch got Modesto even, with the Nuts taking advantage of a rare off-inning for the Blaze defensively.
Bakersfield had its one chance to go ahead in the 7th. With one out, Berset and Theo Bowe singled, with Bowe going to second on a throw to third. The Nuts went to the pen, bringing in Kurt Yacko, who promptly retired Devin Lohman and Ryan Wright on flyballs to end the threat. From there, the Blaze were held silent. Adam Jorgensen (W, 1-0) pitched the 8th, and Isaiah Froneberger, the 9th, to record the save.
Modesto's winning rally came in the 8th. Dennhardt, in a strange turn, was left in for a third inning of relief, and after striking out Juan Crousset on his 36th pitch, then allowing a single to Tim Smalling, the Blaze opted to let Mike face one more batter. Delta Cleary Jr followed with a single of his own, putting the go-ahead run in scoring position. At that point, Griffey went to the pen, but it may have been one batter too late, as Tarleton singled to right off Daniel Wolford, scoring Smalling, and giving the Nuts the 3-2 edge, the final margin of the game.
The loss drops the Blaze into a series tie with Modesto at two games apiece. Wednesday night, the series will feature Tyler Matzek and James Allen going head-to-head in a winner-take-all game five, also set to occur in Modesto. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm.
Make sure to tune in to hear if the Blaze season will extend into the Championship round, or comes to an end, as Dan Besbris brings the call at BakersfieldBlaze.com's Gameday Audio link -- pregame show will begin ten minutes prior to first pitch.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.