BY BRIAN VANDERBEEK The Modesto Bee
MODESTO -- While shagging fly balls during batting practice, Modesto's Tim Smalling strolled over to Joey Wong and predicted Wong would open the Nuts' first inning with a first-pitch home run.
Yeah, sure. Not only had Wong hit only one homer this season for Modesto, but this would be his first time as the leadoff hitter.
And Smalling was wrong anyway. Wong waited until the second pitch to crush a fastball over the right field fence for the first of his four hits that helped Modesto to a 12-1 dousing of the Bakersfield Blaze, keeping the Nuts' season alive.
"That set the tone of the game right there," Smalling said. "We were joking in the outfield before the game and I told him he was going to hit the first pitch of the game out of the park. I think it was the second pitch but he did it, and it was a bomb, too. It really got us going offensively."
Modesto trails the Blaze 2-1 in the best-of-five North Division Finals, which will be played to its conclusion at John Thurman Field.
Dan Renken (6-9, 5.93) will start for Bakersfield tonight against Josh Mueller (5-1, 3.18).
Wong, Smalling and Jared Clark all connected for home runs in the Nuts' four-run first inning, and Modesto turned the game into a rout with a six-run eighth inning.
Bakersfield starter Stalin Gerson allowed six runs (five earned) in his only inning of work. Travis Mattair scored Bakersfield's lone run with a fourth-inning home run.
NEW YORK -- Former Blaze starting pitcher Jamie Walczak was among two minor leaguers in the Cincinnati Reds' organization suspended for violating baseball's drug program.
Walczak, a right-hander recently assigned to Dayton (Ohio) of the Midwest League, and third baseman Ernest Vasquez (also with Dayton) each tested positive for an amphetamine and received 50-game penalties. Their suspensions will begin next season.
Walczak most recently pitched with Bakersfield on Aug. 30. The 25-year-old Painesville, Ohio, native went 4-5 with a 5.65 ERA with Bakersfield this season.