The hottest team in the California League lived up to its name again Thursday night in a must-win situation at Sam Lynn Ball Park.
The Bakersfield Blaze, which closed the regular season by winning 25 of its last 30 games, ripped five home runs, including two in a seven-run sixth inning, to rally for a 13-6 victory against the Modesto Nuts to even the best-of-three series in the opening round of the North Division playoffs.
"That's been a characteristic of this team all season," Blaze manager Steve Buechele said. "They battle back like no other team I've ever seen. Once the ball got rolling, we were hard to stop."
The Blaze, which earned its first playoff victory since Sept. 9, 2001, will send left-hander Richard Bleier (7-11) to the mound today against Modesto's Bruce Billings (6-10) in a 7:05 p.m. game at Sam Lynn Ball Park. The winner will advance to face the top-seeded San Jose Giants in the division finals starting at 2 p.m. Saturday.
"They know what's at stake just like we do," Buechele said. "We're just going to go out and play hard. It should be a good game (tonight)."
Bakersfield, which lost 5-3 in Wednesday's playoff opener in Modesto, trailed by the same score heading into the bottom of the sixth. But Ian Gac and Tommy Mendonca homered on consecutive pitches to knot the score at 5. Four hits and two walks later, Gac capped the seven-run inning with a two-run single to left.
"We were rolling," said Mendonca, who also made three nice defensive plays at third base. "Everybody just stayed with it. We had some guys that had some bad at-bats, but came back and stuck with it. Our hitting, our pitching and our defense all kept us in the game tonight."
The Blaze also had back-to-back home runs in the third by David Paisano and Matt Lawson to ignite a three-run inning that cut the Nuts' lead to 4-3.
Modesto displayed its share of power with four home runs, including three off Bakersfield starter Tanner Roark, who was bidding for his third win over the Nuts this season. Roark was 10-0 in the regular season, incuding 7-0 as a starter.
But Buechele had seen enough from his starter by the third inning, replacing him with Tyler Tufts.
Tufts earned the win, allowing just one run over three innings before Adalberto Flores and Glenn Swanson closed the game out.
Bakersfield pounded 16 hits against five Modesto pitchers, capped by a Mendonca's second homer of the game -- a two-run shot in the eighth.
Lawson finished with three hits and two RBIs, while Davis Stoneburner, Joey Butler and Gac added two hits apiece.