MODESTO, Calif. -
Of the seven straight losses the Stockton Ports have had to start the season, Wednesday's has to rank as the toughest of them all. Leading 2-1 for most of the contest, the Ports ran into Murphy's Law once again, having a pop-up get lost in the wind and having an error in the ninth give Modesto a walk-off win at John Thurman Field.
The Nuts opened the scoring in the bottom of the first on a controversial call made by plate umpire Nick Bailey. With Charlie Blackmon at first and two out, Brian Rike hit a ball down the right field line that looked to be foul. Bailey ruled the ball fair, allowing Blackman to score the game's first run and give the Nuts a 1-0 lead despite the argument from Ports skipper Aaron Nieckula.
The run was the only one allowed by starter Carlos Hernandez, who pitched masterfully. Hernandez squeaked out of a jam in the second where Modesto had runners at first and third with nobody out. He escaped a jam with runners at the corners and two out in the fourth. In all, Hernandez went six full frames, allowing just the one run on five hits while striking out three in receiving a no-decision.
As has been the norm early on in '09, Stockton's offense struggled mightily. The Ports were shut down through the first three innings by Nuts starter Connor Graham. In the fourth, however, Graham's control problems finally left an opening for the Ports. Greg Dowling and Frank Martinez reached on back-to-back walks to start the frame. Mike Affronti then got the runners over on a sac-bunt up the third base line. After Larry Cobb popped out, Dante Love stepped to the plate and hit a shallow pop-fly slicing down the right field line. It wasn't the hardest hit ball, but it fell in fair territory, bringing home Dowling and Martinez and giving the Ports a 2-1 lead.
The two runs the Ports scored were the only runs allowed by Graham, who would also receive a no-decision after going 4.2 innings, allowing just two hits but walking five.
The Nuts bullpen kept Stockton's bats quiet the remainder of the game. Sean Jarrett took over for Graham and essentially retired 13 straight batters. The one hit he allowed came with one out in the eighth-a ball hit off the wall by Dowling who was thrown out trying to stretch the hit to a double.
Leading 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth, the Ports had Pat Currin on the hill. Currin, who escaped a jam in the seventh, retired the first two batters to start the eighth. With two down and two left-handed hitters due, Nieckula opted to go to the bullpen and summon southpaw Nick Walters. Walters would suffer some extraordinarily bad luck. Rike greeted the left-hander with a single to center. Jay Cox followed and hit a pop-up to shallow right. The second baseman Martinez, fighting wind gusts of up to 25mph, kept backpedaling on the outfield grass. Right fielder Shane Keough was in the vicinity, but it was Martinez who tried to catch the pop-up. The ball ended up falling to the side of Martinez' glove instead of being caught for the inning's final out. Rike scored on the play, and Cox made it to second before being caught in a rundown. The pop-up was ruled an RBI double for Cox, and Modesto got the tying run they'd been looking for.
In the top of the ninth, Nuts reliever Randall Taylor (2-0) set the side down in order. In the bottom of the ninth, Manteca native Justin Friend (0-1) would find himself on the short end of some tough luck. Friend yielded a leadoff walk to Radames Nazario, who ended his day 3-for-3. Lars Davis came up next and on a hit-and-run, laced a single to left. Nazario was already around second when the ball was booted by Ports left-fielder Todd Johnson. Once the ball got away, Nazario scored easily on the error, resulting in an unearned run allowed by Friend and the game-winning run for Modesto.
After an extremely tough road trip, Banner Island Ballpark will be a welcome sight for the Ports as they return to Stockton for their home opener. The Ports will host the San Jose Giants on Thursday as they try once again for their first win of the year. Craig Italiano (0-1, 15.43 ERA) will head to the hill for Stockton, opposed by Giants lefty and top prospect Madison Bumgardner (1-0, 0.00 ERA). First pitch for the home opener is set for 7:05 p.m. PDT.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.