Visalia had taken a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth and for the second straight night had turned to closer Bud Jeter to lock down the save. But Jeter, who typically exhibits pinpoint command, was not his usual self and walked the bases loaded, only throwing a total of two strikes to the first three batters he faced. The tying run was on second and the winning run on first with nobody out, and Mason McCullough was rapidly warming in the Rawhide bullpen.
With the Cal League’s RBI leader Gianfranco Wawoe at the plate, Jeter fell behind 2-1. Then he got Wawoe to chase a fastball up and out of the zone, and something clicked. Jeter struck out Wawoe on a 3-2 fastball for the first out, but the heart of the order was coming up. Logan Taylor, who had hit the ball to the track twice and hit a solo homer in the sixth inning stood in and Jeter fell behind once again 3-0. But after getting a strike called on the inside corner, Jeter induced a fly-out to right-fielder Jason Morozowski. The fly ball brought home Jordan Cowan to make it a one-run game, and brought power-hitter Joey Curletta to the plate. But then Jeter did something he hadn’t done all night: he got a first-pitch strike. Three pitches later, he struck out Curletta on a high fastball and the Rawhide had defeated Modesto for the first time this season.
Each team had missed opportunities in the later innings. Both Visalia (12-10) and Modesto (13-9) had the go-ahead run in scoring position in the seventh and eighth innings. But the Rawhide ran themselves into outs on the base paths and the Nuts ran into Kirby Bellow who thrived in the high stress situations and got out of both jams unscathed. The Rawhide capitalized on their scoring chance in the ninth off of Matt Festa when Francis Christy doubled off the top of the right field wall with one out. Henry Castillo followed with a walk, and then Matt McPhearson drove a line drive over Eric Filia’s head in right to score Christy and retake the lead, 4-3. With Castillo on third, Galli Cribbs laid down a safety squeeze that brought home Castillo to give the Rawhide the two-run cushion. Festa (1-1) was responsible for all of the runs that came across in the ninth inning.
The safety squeeze ended up being the difference in the ballgame.
Neither starter factored into tonight’s decision. Justin Donatella was solid for Visalia, tossing three no-hit innings to start his night before surrendering his only run of the evening in the fourth. Donatella exited after five innings after allowing one run on three hits with two walks and two strikeouts. He stranded runners on second and third in the fifth by striking out Wawoe looking on a fastball. Nuts starter Pablo Lopez gave up two runs in the first inning when Cribbs doubled to lead off the game and Gregor Blanco singled to move him to third. Blanco would steal second, and then back-to-back groundouts from Morozowski and Marty Herum scored Cribbs and Blanco respectively. Lopez was chased with one out in the fifth after allowing a leadoff single to Castillo and issuing a walk to Cribbs. Blanco would single home Castillo off of Lopez’s replacement, Kody Kerski.
Blanco finished with a game-high three hit night and stole three bases while driving in a run and scoring one. Herum saw his seven-game hitting streak snapped, but he drove home his team-leading 13th RBI. Visalia rattled off a double-digit hit total for the first time this week and won their first game against Modesto this season. With the win, Visalia now is one game behind Modesto in the California League North standings.