Modesto came into Monday's California League semifinal Game 3 against Bakersfield looking for a sweep. But the Nuts quickly moved to ensure there'd at least be a Game 4.
Joey Wong, Jared Clark and Timothy Smalling all homered in the first inning as the Rockies' Class A Advanced affiliate cruised to a 12-1 victory over the Blaze.
Wong led off the game with a solo shot, Clark added his own solo homer two batters later and Smalling capped the inning with a two-run shot to left.
"That was big for us, Joey Wong coming out in the first at-bat and hitting a home run, putting us on the board early. We had been behind in the series, so it was good to jump to an early lead," said Smalling. "On my homer I got behind in the count, and the pitcher [Stalin Gerson] left a changeup a little bit up, I put a good swing on it and put us up four.
"It's always good to get that big lead early. It takes some pressure off the pitcher, off the defense and you can go up there and relax a little bit in the box."
Wong's RBI single and Brett Tanos' sacrifice fly extended the lead in the second inning and Modesto's pitching staff stifled any Bakersfield attempt to come back. A six-run eighth by the Nuts made it a rout.
Jorge De La Rosa scattered a run on three hits and a walk, fanning five, over 3 2/3 innings to start the game. Kurt Yacko notched a strikeout to end the fourth and then Christian Bergman limited the Blaze to two hits and a walk with five punchouts over the final five frames.
"De La Rosa threw the ball really well, and Yacko came in to get that out. Then Bergman, he's been our guy all year and he shut them down the last five innings to get the win. That was big for us," said Smalling.
At this point, Modesto is no stranger to elimination games. After going down 1-0 in a best-of-3 first-round series with San Jose, the Nuts were able to pick up back-to-back wins.
This time they'll have to win three straight, but Smalling said they felt they can pull off the comeback again.
"We're kind of in the same situation as the first round with San Jose. Down early, lost that first game, so we've played with our backs to the wall," he said. "Played [that way] a lot of the year, in the postseason. You go in and you're just thinking about Game 4 [on Tuesday].
"Do what you can do to win that game and see what happens after that."
Wong went 4-for-5 on Monday, finishing a triple short of the cycle with two runs and two RBIs. Smalling went 2-for-4, also with a pair of runs and RBIs.
Eight of the nine Modesto batters drove in at least a run, with Delta Cleary Jr. plating two with a triple and a single.
As was the case Monday, the Nuts will have the luxury of home-field advantage for Tuesday's Game 4, and if necessary, Wednesday's Game 5.
In other California League action:
Lancaster 10, High Desert 5
The JetHawks regained the series lead, going up 2-1 on the Mavericks as Chris Epps fell a single short of a cycle, driving in three. Erik Castro added another three RBIs.
Delino DeShields Jr. doubled twice and Telvin Nash, who hit 29 homers in the regular season, went yard for the first time this postseason.
Tyson Perez scattered two runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out four over six innings to earn the win. Lancaster will shoot for a place in the California League Championship Series in Game 4 at home Tuesday. Box score