Westlake High right-hander John Chiaramonte and catcher Jim Henderson have an unusual system for selecting pitches. Chiaramonte, has so many offerings that the two have concocted their own way to communicate on the field.
"He must throw about seven different pitches," Henderson explained. "So for flashing signs, we use every finger and then we wiggle some for different pitches, because he just has too many pitches to put down on one hand."
On Friday, the Wizards of Wiggle were a touch too much for Simi Valley, rated No. 1 in the Valley by The Times. Behind Chiaramonte's two-hitter and sleight of hand on the hill and Henderson's sign language behind the plate, Westlake upset Simi Valley, 6-0, in a Marmonte League game at Westlake.
The victory moved Westlake (11-9-1, 6-2-1) to within a game of first place in the league race. Simi Valley (19-4, 8-2) suffered its second shutout in three days. On Wednesday, Thousand Oaks right-hander Dan Chergey beat the Pioneers, 4-0.
Improbably, after recording 21 straight Marmonte League wins over three seasons, Simi Valley has slipped with two league road losses. Seven days ago, the Pioneers were pointing fingers skyward to signify their status as the top team in the Valley. A week later, the struggling team is using the same digit to scratch its collective head.
"It's been a tough week, no question," Simi Valley Coach Mike Scyphers said with a shrug. "Offensively, we're definitely struggling. Shoot, we came into this game batting .360 as a team. Maybe we took too many pitches.
"Whatever it is, we've lost our aggressiveness at the plate, that's for sure."
Chiaramonte (4-1) carried a no-hitter into the sixth and struck out eight, including three in the seventh. The 5-11 junior kept the Pioneers, if not Henderson, off balance with a plethora of pitches that, well, can be best described by Chiaramonte.
"Knuckleball, fastball, sidearm fastball, sidearm knuckleball, drop curve and the sidearm curve," Chiaramonte said. "The sidearm curve is probably my most effectivest pitch. Either that or the knuckleball."
When Chiaramonte--nicknamed "Wizard" by teammates--wasn't inventing new adjectives, he was ad-libbing his way through the Simi Valley lineup. Chiaramonte retired 17 of the first 20 batters he face before Tim Laker singled to left with two out in the sixth. By then, Westlake had taken a 5-0 lead.
"Usually by the second inning or so, we can tell which pitches are working the best," Henderson said. "Today, they were all working."
Westlake jumped on Simi Valley right-hander Scott Sharts (8-2) for two in the second, three in the fifth and one in the sixth. Henderson, who was 3 for 3 with 3 runs batted in, had key hits in each inning. Henderson knocked in two in the second with a single, singled to load the bases in the three-run fifth and picked up an RBI in the sixth with his third hit.
The win marked the first time a Westlake baseball team has won more than 10 games in a season, and only the second time in its 10-year history that Westlake defeated Simi Valley. Westlake has also won a record number of league games.
"This means a chance at the league championship," Westlake Coach Dennis Judd said. "With two straight losses by shutout, they have to be looking behind them."
Westlake has three league games remaining and a possible makeup of a 7-7 tie with Newbury Park. Simi Valley has two Marmonte games left.
"It's in our own hands," Scyphers said. "But if momentum means anything, I'd have to say it's with Westlake right now."