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Modesto Nuts prevail in grand fashion

STOCKTON -- The roll call of power-hitting shortstops that have come through Modesto in 64 years of minor league baseball is a short one.

In fact, the only shortstop ever to hit 20 homers in a season for a Modesto team is Miguel Tejada, who hit exactly 20 in 1996 -- the year before the fences were moved back 30 feet in the full-scale stadium renovation.

But Thomas Field moved midway to Tejada on Sunday with an eighth-inning grand slam that gave the Nuts the lead in what became a 10-5 victory over the Stockton Ports.

Field isn't very big. He's listed at 5 feet, 9 inches and 175 pounds, or about the size of a middle linebacker at a small high school. Two previous minor league seasons produced seven total home runs.

Yet Field has turned into a toy cannon for the Nuts, with six of his 10 home runs coming this month. No other Modesto player this season has more than five as the Nuts are last in the league with 35 long balls.

"I'm not sure where the homers are coming from," Field said. "I'm working with (hitting coach Duane) Espy and I'm trying to see the ball early and hit it out front of the plate, and to jump on the fastballs that are mistakes."

The Nuts trailed 5-2 entering the eighth inning and were prone to squandering scoring chances.

Jimmy Cesario led off the eighth with a single off reliever Lance Sewell, who then was replaced by closer Paul Smyth.

Ryan Peisel greeted Smyth with an RBI double to make it 5-3, Radames Nazario walked and Scott Robinson's sacrifice bunt was mishandled by Smyth to load the bases.

After a strikeout, the Nuts got a run when Tim Wheeler's ground ball was bobbled, then Field took a slider for strike one before Smyth left a fastball over the plate. When it landed, well beyond the left-field bullpen, Modesto led 8-5 and was on its way to a series victory.

"It was a lull for those first few innings," Field said. "But once we started making things happen, we just tried to get to the next guy and it started rolling for us."

The win kept the Nuts five games behind San Jose, but the Giants' magic number to clinch their sixth straight California League North Division first-half title has been reduced to 3.

San Jose has six games remaining, all on the road, while the Nuts open a three-game set at Visalia tonight and close the first half with five home games in three nights against Bakersfield, starting Thursday.

Up until the eighth-inning rally, the Nuts looked tired and as faded as the ratty black batting practice jerseys they chose to wear on the warmest afternoon of the season.

Starter Dan Houston was rocked early, giving up four runs on nine hits over his first three innings, but kept Modesto close into the sixth.

Modesto loaded the bases in the fourth with no outs and scored only one run, and had to settle for one run in the seventh after loading them with one out.

"It felt like we were getting blown out 4-2," said Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein.

Stockton got a run in the seventh off Nuts reliever Michael Marbry (2-0,) who was in line for the win after Field connected in the eighth.

Even with his power surge, Field said he's not changing his thinking when he comes to the plate. He still wants to hit for average, and so be it if the homers happen.

"I don't set number goals," Field said. "My biggest goal for the year is just to stay consistent."

And when told of the home run total posted by Tejada, Fields just laughed.

"That's tough company right there," Field said. "I don't know if 20 is in my future."

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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