STOCKTON-- It took the light-hitting Modesto Nuts 60 games to pitch, field and otherwise scrap its way into a first-half divisional race.
But it took only four days for the Nuts to whiff their way out of contention.
After getting swept at San Jose in a weekend series, Modesto's lackluster offense again was the culprit Monday night in a 5-1 loss to the last-place Stockton Ports.
The Nuts' fourth straight loss kept them in third place and dropped them three games behind first-place Visalia with six games remaining. In short, Modesto probably needs to sweep through the rest of its schedule just to have a shot at the crown, and would need a lot of help from other teams to win it.
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"I don't think there's any time of the season when it's good to not execute," said Nuts' manager Jerry Weinstein. "This is about development and you can't play at the next level if you can't make productive outs."
Four days ago, the Nuts were in a position to help themselves. But that was before being outscored 28-11 over four games while collecting 29 hits against 42 strikeouts.
Five of those hits and nine of those whiffs came against a team Modesto had defeated eight times in nine meetings heading into Monday's game.
The Nuts took a 1-0 lead in the third when Brian Rike led off with his fourth home run of the season, a blast off the top of the storage building in dead-center that serves as Stockton Ballpark's batter's eye.
But even in that inning Modesto found a way to stifle its own rally. Wilin Rosario followed with a single and moved to second when Michael Mitchell singled, all off righty Scott Hodsdon.
With leadoff hitter Maikol Gonzalez at the plate, the Nuts were set up for a possible big inning. But before Gonzalez could make contact, Rosario was picked off second and Mitchell was caught off first.
"The story of the game is when we get picked off in a bunt situation and then picked off again in a hit-and-run situation," Weinstein said. "That's the ballgame right there." But it was far from the last of the Nuts' situational failures.
The Ports got their runs in the fourth off Modesto reliever Sean Jarrett (2-1,) who gave up singles to Yousef Carter and Shane Keough ahead of Jermaine Mitchell's two-run double to left.
Suddenly trailing, the Nuts continued to create and squander scoring chances.
In the fifth, Jason Van Kooten led off with a single and moved to second on a wild pitch. Rike did his job, moving Van Kooten to third on a ground ball to the right side, but Rosario and Mitchell both struck out, stranding the tying run at third base.
That pattern continued in the seventh when Matt Repec was hit by a pitch and was standing on second base with no outs after a wild pitch. This time, Hodsdon responded with three straight strikeouts to preserve the lead.
With all those chances left on base, Modesto still trailed only 2-1 heading into the eighth, only to hand Stockton three unearned runs in a rally started by Repec's throwing error from third base.
The insurance runs appeared to be needed when Stockton closer Leonardo Espinal gave up a one-out single to Jay Cox ahead of walks to Repec and Jeff Cunningham.
After watching two straight batters walk, Van Kooten grounded into a first-pitch double play to end the game, completing Modesto's zero-for-eight night with runners in scoring position.
"I told V-K that if he got up there as the tying run in the ninth that we weren't taking a strike," Weinstein said. "He was the tying run and it was up to him to get his hacks in."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.