MODESTO, Calif. - After back-to-back gut-wrenching losses and three straight losses overall, the Stockton Ports found their way back into the win column on Monday night at John Thurman Field. Kevin Merrell went 4-for-5 and fell a home run shy of hitting for the cycle as the Ports got off to a fast start and finished strong in a 6-3 win over the Modesto Nuts to open a three-game series.
Merrell opened the game with a triple to left-center field and, two batters later, Dairon Blanco tripled to right to score Merrell and give the Ports a 1-0 lead. Blanco scored on an ensuing sac-fly by Greg Deichmann to make it a 2-0 ballgame.
Ports starter Jake Bray did not allow a run over the first two innings. In the third, he issued a leadoff walk followed by a double to Mike Zunino, who played the game on a Major League rehab assignment for Modesto. Bryson Brigman delivered an RBI single to right that scored Solano and Evan White followed and walked to load the bases with nobody out. Bray, however, got Joe Rizzo to strike out and Logan Taylor to fly out to shallow right. Zunino tried to tag up and score on the fly ball to right field but was thrown out at the plate by Luis Barrera to end the inning.
Bray would not factor into the decision, going 3.2 innings and allowing just the one run on three hits while walking four and striking out five.
Stockton added to its lead in the fifth as Brallan Perez walked to start the inning and Merrell doubled to right. On the throw in, the second baseman Brigman dropped the ball which allowed Perez to score from third and Merrell to advance from second to third. Nate Mondou followed with an RBI single, his first of two RBI on the night, to make it 4-1.
Nuts starter Ljay Newsome (0-2) would suffer the loss after allowing four runs on six hits in five innings of work.
The Ports added a run in the eighth off Nuts reliever Jack Anderson, who gave up a two-out RBI single to Mondou. In the ninth, the Ports pushed across a run on a wild pitch after a fielding error extended the inning to make it a 6-1 advantage.
Brendan Butler (2-0), who took over for Bray to record the final out of the fourth, pitched into the ninth for the Ports. Butler gave up a one-out single to Gareth Morgan followed by a walk to Solano. After striking out Manuel Pazos, Butler surrendered a two-run triple to Brigman that brought the Nuts to within two at 6-3. Butler was then lifted for Andrew Tomasovich (SV, 1) who issued a walk to White that brought Rizzo to the plate as the possible-tying run. Rizzo, however, would strike out swinging to end the ballgame.
Butler earned his second win for Stockton while Tomasovich notched his first save of the season.
The Ports and Nuts play the middle game of their three-game series on Tuesday night at John Thurman Field. Jesus Luzardo (1-1, 1.86 ERA) makes the start for Stockton, opposed by Modesto right-hander John Richy (0-1, 9.00 ERA). First pitch 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.