MODESTO, CA - In a must-win game, Visalia teetered on the edge of elimination, staring a four-run deficit in the face after they'd been shut out for six innings by Modesto's starter Tyler Jackson .
With reliever Matt Walker taking over for Jackson in the seventh, the Rawhide got a reprieve when pinch hitter Matt Jones laced a first pitch line drive double down the left field line. Jones would advance to third and score on an Austin Byler infield single, his first hit of the series, and Visalia was within striking distance, trailing 4-1.
Visalia's Yoan Lopez , after striking out the side in order in the sixth, held the line for the Rawhide in the bottom of the seventh allowing a leadoff double to Eric Filia , but striking out two more hitters to keep the game within reach.
The Visalia offense, fresh off the late-inning magic from their four-run comeback victory on Friday night, responded in the eighth.
Fernery Ozuna struck out on a breaking ball from Walker that kicked into the dirt and went to the backstop, allowing Ozuna to reach first. Jorge Flores , after falling behind with two strikes, muscled a bloop single that dunked in perfectly between shortstop Donnie Walton and left fielder Joey Curletta . With two on and nobody out, Seth Spivey worked a full count and, after fouling off a pitch from Walker, drew a walk to load the bases and put the tying run on base.
With Jones due up, the Nuts went to hard throwing right-hander Art Warren . After Jones fell behind with two strikes he lined a clutch two-run single to left, bringing Visalia to within one.
On the play, Curletta errantly threw the ball away, moving Spivey and Jones to third and second respectively; still with no outs.
But Byler struck out swinging for the first out and Jason Morozowski followed by lacing a sharp line drive that was ticketed for the gap in right center. Filia tracked it down and made a full-extension diving grab. Spivey came home to score the tying run, but the catch saved Jones's run from coming home to score.
Grant Heyman softly lined out to short to end the inning and the Rawhide had to settle for a 4-4 tie.
The tie score didn't last long however, as Modesto (73-66/34-35) got to work against reliever Tommy Eveld . After Eveld struck out Curletta looking, Luis Liberato hit a seeing-eye grounder up the middle for a single. Ryan Scott followed with a softly hit grounder to short that moved Liberato into scoring position.
Gianfranco Wawoe , playing in his first game since a short assignment with AAA-Tacoma, topped a grounder toward the hole between third and short. Jorge Flores made an incredible individual effort to get to the ball and make a strong, off balance, sidearmed throw with his momentum carrying him away from first. The throw short hopped Byler at first and squeaked through, allowing Liberato to score from second and give Modesto back the lead.
After yielding the tie-breaking run on three softly hit, roll over grounders, hard-luck loser Eveld (L, 0-5) retired Filia to end the inning.
Warren (W, 3-1) set down the side in order in the ninth inning. Two pitches before Ozuna struck out to end the game, Stockton completed their own comeback win over San Jose which, combined with Visalia's loss, eliminated the Rawhide from playoff contention for the first time since 2012.
Filia finished with two doubles and a sacrifice fly with a run scored and a steal. Jones was the only Rawhide player with multiple hits, drove home two, and scored a run.
Baseball, as they say, is a game of inches. A few inches more into the gap, and Morozowski's eighth-inning line drive falls uncaught; a few rolls less and Flores has an easier throw that maybe doesn't short-hop Byler and the winning run doesn't score.
But tonight, in this frustrating and painful game of inches, Modesto got the critical breaks when most needed and Visalia goes home without a playoff seed.
Visalia will play their season finale tomorrow in Modesto. Visalia will send RHP Jon Duplantier (6-2, 1.54) to the bump against RHP Joey Strain (3-3, 6.17) for the Nuts. First pitch is at 2:05 PM and the Visalia radio broadcast will be available on Rawhidebaseball.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.