Darryl Stroh is no longer perfect in City baseball championship games, and he didn't have to look far Thursday night to figure out why. Even advanced warning couldn't have helped much against Rodney Beck in the 4-A title game.
"Everybody told me how good he (Beck) was, and they scared the heck out of me all week," said Stroh, the Granada Hills High School coach, whose Highlander teams had won all of the previous five times they had played for a title. "I'll tell you what: He was better than they said he was."
Some of the Granada Hills players might say that Beck was better than even the confident Beck had claimed he was. Either way, there was little doubt that the senior right-hander was the star as Grant won its first City baseball title, 5-1, before an estimated crowd of 6,000 at Dodger Stadium.
Beck had trouble with the mound at first, saying afterward that it was higher than he liked it, but there was no stopping him once that problem was licked. He allowed only two batters to reach base after the third inning--designated hitter Danny Ginetti on a single in the fifth inning and Kent Lowery on a pitch that hit him in the seventh--and finished with seven strikeouts and a three-hitter. The only run he allowed was unearned.
"The first few innings, he was kind of flat," Grant catcher Sean Pettway said. "But he got better after a couple of innings. The knuckleball was working, and the curve was there."
Beck, who came into the game with a 12-1 record, 134 strikeouts and only 37 walks in 95 innings, will never be mistaken for a favorite among Granada Hills players. He sports a Fu Manchu mustache and, some of the Highlanders claim, a dominating personality to match.
"It helps the opponent when the other players talk about themselves as he does in the paper," Granada Hills shortstop Greg Fowble said earlier in the week. "Hopefully, we can put him in the dugout so he can watch his own team play, since he wants to sit in the stands and watch himself play."
Added right fielder Bob Allen, the Mid-Valley League co-MVP this season: "He sounds cocky. I don't like people that express their cockiness. It makes you want to beat them."
But for the first four innings, at least, Beck and Grant were in control. After Granada Hills had taken a 1-0 lead in the top of the second with a single by Scott Tosti, an error and two consecutive passed balls, Grant came back to score four runs in the bottom of the inning in similar fashion.
Two Granada Hills errors--one by Fowble, the other by Tosti--brought in two of the runs, and an infield single by David Waco, the No. 9 hitter, set up another. That was one of only two Grant hits in the inning, Juan Guerrero getting the other to drive in Matt Simpson.
Sean Casey, who had won all three playoff games for Granada Hills to raise his record to 11-4, got in more trouble in the fourth, partly his own fault and partly because of bad luck.
Waco led off the inning with his second straight infield single, this one having deflected off Casey's glove to second baseman Dan Takahashi, who threw late to first. The next batter, Guerrero, bunted toward third, but Casey came off the mound and slipped on the grass before throwing. Fowble made a nice play at shortstop for a double play, but Casey then walked Beck on four pitches, wild pitched him to second and walked Jason Peterson on five pitches to load the bases.
Finally, after Casey got behind, 2-and-0, on the next batter, designated hitter Danny Karpin, Stroh went to the mound. The coach was three steps away when Casey made his final pitch--giving up the ball before any words were said.
It did take reliever Brett Browning long, however, to end the inning as Karpin grounded to Fowble on the second pitch to force Peterson at second.