Bakersfield Blaze relief pitcher Mike Dennhardt tried not to think about the fact that he was taking the mound with the bases loaded, nobody out, and the opposing team's No. 5 batter at the plate.
He just wanted to somehow get out of the eighth-inning jam with the Blaze still holding at least part of its three-run lead.
Instead, the 22-year old right-hander allowed the Blaze to keep all of its advantage as he struck out the first batter he faced and then got the next one to fly out into an inning-ending double play.
The sequence paved the way for the Blaze to hold on for an exciting 8-5 victory over the Modesto Nuts in the Cal League Division Finals on Sunday afternoon at Sam Lynn Ballpark. The Blaze has a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series, which now shifts to Modesto for the conclusion.
"I'm very happy with that but it's still unfinished," Blaze manager Ken Griffey said. "We have to go out there and play hard like we have been the last two days."
"It's a good feeling," Dennhardt said. "It's moments like that you look for as a relief pitcher. It's a really good confidence builder to get out of a jam like that."
The Blaze outhit the Nuts, 17-5. All nine players in the Bakersfield starting lineup had at least one hit. And each one at least scored a run or drove in one.
Danny Vicioso and Ryan Wright each hit home runs to help stake Blaze starter Tim Crabbe to an early 6-2 lead.
But Modesto, which hit three home runs overall, cut the margin to 6-4 after Jared Clark hit a solo shot in the sixth and Joey Wong followed with one of his own an inning later.
Down 2-0, the Blaze took the lead for good in the second with a four-run rally keyed by Josef Terry's RBI single and Vicioso's two-run home run. Both hits came with two outs against Modesto starter Juan Gonzalez.
After allowing the two early runs, one of which was unearned, Crabbe settled down and retired 13 of 14 before Clark's homer.
Crabbe, a 6-foot-4 right-hander and Westmont College product, went 62â3 innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on four hits and two walks while striking out four.
In the process he earned the victory.
"His effort was outstanding today," Griffey said. "You can't ask for more from Crabbe as he did today. He pitched well. Any time you get five or six innings from your starters, you have a good chance at winning your games."
Dennhardt pitched the final two innings to earn the save. The only blemish on his final stat line was a solo home run in the ninth hit by Juan Crousset.
By then the Blaze led 8-4 and Dennhardt had already saved the day an inning earlier by fanning Dallas Tarleton with a wicked slider before getting Tim Smalling to hit a liner that center fielder Theo Bowe caught and then fired to second, doubling up Brett Tanos.
"That was a big play for us," Griffey said.