BY BRIAN VANDERBEEK The Modesto Bee
MODESTO -- Modesto scored five first-inning runs against untested Bakersfield starter James Allen, topping the Blaze 6-2 on Wednesday night in the deciding fifth game of the North Division Championship Series.
The Blaze won the first two games of the series in Bakersfield before dropping three in a row at Modesto.
Nuts starter Tyler Matzek held Bakersfield to one run over 52â3 innings.
Decisive games are becoming old hat for the 21-year-old left-hander. He blanked San Jose over seven innings to pick up the win in the deciding Game 3 of the North Division mini-series. Modesto advanced to its first league championship series since becoming a Colorado Rockies affiliate in 2005.
"I'm all for pitching in another Game 5," Matzek said. "If we keep hitting and pitching the way we are, I really think we'll be able to win it. I'm ready to pitch a Game 5, but I'm hoping we'll win it before then."
Allen was making his first appearance in the California League and lasted all of 11 pitches -- long enough to give up a single to Joey Wong and a double to Rafael Ortega followed by back-to-back four-pitch walks to Dallas Tarleton and Jared Clark to give Modesto a 1-0 lead.
The most important and best at-bat of the game followed, as Tim Smalling took two strikes from reliever Brooks Pinkard, fouled off four pitches while working the count full, then lining a two-run double into the right field corner. Juan Crousset followed with an RBI single and the five-run explosion was capped when Smalling strolled home on a double play ground ball hit by Delta Cleary Jr. Tarleton added a sacrifice fly in the second for a 6-0 lead, and from that point on the Nuts began to count outs.
Matzek wasn't quite as sharp as he was in his seven scoreless playoff innings against San Jose, and needed 99 pitches to get Modesto through two outs in the sixth. He allowed one run on three hits, with six strikeouts against four walks.
"Pitching with a lead is a lot better than pitching from behind in games, but your focus still is to get the team as deep as you can into the game before you hand it to the pen," Matzek said. "You keep pounding the zone and get outs. I got a little wild but we got through it."
Bakersfield scored off Matzek in the sixth, when he walked two batters, and added a run in the eighth off Kurt Yacko on a home run by Travis Mattair.
Moments after the game, Modesto manager Lenn Sakata leaned back in his chair, just a few feet away from the music blaring in the Nuts' clubhouse, and talked about when he started to believe his first Nuts' team had a shot at making it this far.
"I was optimistic that we would improve to the point where we had a chance," Sakata said. "That expectation was always there, but it always takes more than talent to win, and we had the chemistry that you need to compete."