It certainly doesn't rank up there with burning bushes, bolts of lightning or 40 days and nights of rain, but there are those at Kennedy High who believe omens can still come in very small packages.
Kennedy Coach Manny Alvarado was in a funk three weeks ago after an upset loss to Cleveland and ventured to a Chinese restaurant to drown his sorrow in soy sauce. After the meal, the first-year baseball coach opened a fortune cookie, a move he now insists was fortuitous, indeed.
"It said, 'You will lose the small ones and win the big ones,' " Alvarado recalled. "And we haven't lost since."
The latest to crumble against Kennedy was Sylmar, which on Wednesday blew a six-run lead as the Golden Cougars stormed to an 8-7 victory in a City Section 4-A Division semifinal playoff at Birmingham High. Kennedy will face Palisades (25-4), a 9-8 winner over Chatsworth, in the final at 7:30 tonight at Dodger Stadium.
Trailing, 7-1, after four innings, Kennedy (21-7) scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth and four in the sixth to extend its winning streak to four games. Garret Anderson's three-run home run in the sixth gave Kennedy its first lead.
Facing unbeaten senior left-hander Tom Ball, Bruce Carreau led off the sixth with a bunt single down the third-base line, his second bunt hit of the game. Mike Murray forced Carreau at second but scored when Pat DeBoer doubled to right-center to make it 7-5.
When Kennedy's Gino Tagliaferri--who had launched his 13th home run of the season in the third inning--stepped in representing the potential tying run, Sylmar Coach Gary Donatella made a trip to the mound. First base was open with one out, but Donatella ordered Ball to pitch to the senior shortstop.
"We didn't discuss it," Donatella said. "I told him what I wanted. If (Tagliaferri) hits it out, it's still only a tie game."
The point eventually became moot: Tagliaferri did not hit it out, but he ripped one off the fence in left for a double.
"He got a fastball away," Donatella said. "He's probably the only player in the City who can do that."
DeBoer, thinking that the ball might be caught, stopped at third, setting the stage for Anderson, the Golden Cougars' cleanup batter.
With first base open, Donatella again elected not to issue an intentional walk. The left-handed batting Anderson promptly drilled an 0-and-1 pitch for a three-run home run that gave Kennedy an 8-7 lead.
"I'm not putting the winning run on," Donatella said. "And I'd take my chances on Garret Anderson hitting it out again."
Said Anderson, a junior outfielder who entered the playoffs with 27 runs batted in: "I've had an up-and-down year. Most people don't like to pitch to Gino; they probably didn't know that much about me."
Kennedy right-hander Mitch Cizek (8-4) pitched the final 3 2/3 innings to earn the win. Cizek, who said he sliced open an artery in his right forearm nine days ago while trying to force open a locked window at a friend's house, was not expected to pitch for the remainder of the season. Instead, after Sylmar (19-4) scored three unearned runs in the fourth to take a 6-1 lead, Cizek relieved sophomore right-hander Cody Beaumaster.
After throwing a wild pitch that allowed Sylmar's seventh run to score, Cizek was nearly perfect. He allowed only a pair of harmless singles in the fifth.
"I just sat back and relied on the team," said Cizek, a senior. "I had to rely on the bats."
Ball, who pitched 2 2/3 innings of relief Tuesday in a quarterfinal win over Taft, was saddled with his first loss in 10 decisions as Sylmar's 10-game winning streak was snapped.
Kennedy had 14 hits but squandered numerous scoring opportunities. In the first, Travis Bourne grounded into a bases-loaded double play to end the inning. With two out in the second, DeBoer struck out with the bases loaded. Tagliaferri finally put Kennedy on the board with a solo home run in the third, but, by then, Sylmar had scored three runs.
Despite having only two hits in the inning, Sylmar scored four runs in the fourth to take a 7-1 lead. The Spartans, who entered the game having won 18 of 19 games, turned a single, three walks, an error, a passed ball, a sacrifice fly by Phillip Moreno and a run-scoring single by London Woodfin into a seemingly insurmountable six-run lead.
But Kennedy circled the wagons.
Said Alvarado: "When we were down by six, we huddled up and I told them, 'We've been here before. Let's do it.' "
The team, apparently, elected to believe Alvarado's mid-game speech. The fortune cookie yarn, however, was greeted with derisive jeers. The players, he said, were looking for a more pronounced sign from the heavens. Something more tangible than a tiny slip of paper.
"That's God's honest truth," Alvarado said. "They all thought I was blowing smoke, but it's in on my desk blotter right now."
Kennedy, however, needs one more course to whet its appetite.
"This team is hungry," Tagliaferri said. "There's no stopping until we win it all."