After his starting pitcher walked the first two batters of the game, Coach Dan Maye of Royal High heard the comments in the stands become more shrill and urgent.
"What are they doing? This is crazy," fans grumbled.
In one of the boldest coaching decisions of the season, Maye chose an untested sophomore to pitch in the second round of the Southern Section playoffs Tuesday against Millikan, the top-seeded team in Division I and the 10th-ranked team in the nation.
Mike Rainer is a 6-foot-5, 185-pound left-hander who had just been promoted to the varsity and pitched only 14 innings all season for the junior varsity.
No wonder Royal fans wondered about Maye's judgment.
Rainer vindicated Maye's decision and helped give the Highlanders one of the area's biggest victories by pitching four scoreless innings, allowing two hits with three strikeouts and four walks. Matt Pitstick added three hitless innings to secure the 2-0 victory.
Maye had decided a week before the game to use Rainer if Royal advanced past the first round, but the coach withheld the news from the players until shortly before the game.
"Players were asking me at practice the day before and at lunchtime the day of the game," Maye said. "I didn't want Mike to know so he wouldn't worry about it. He didn't have time to get nervous."
When catcher Ben Lemos asked to warm up the starting pitcher, Maye tossed a ball to Rainer. But the coach also tossed one to right-hander Gabe Gapol, another sophomore just promoted to the varsity.
"I wanted to have someone else there just in case Mike was off," Maye said. "But he looked very sharp warming up."
After walking the first two batters, Rainer got a double play grounder and a fly out to right to end the inning. He was also helped in the second when Millikan botched a suicide squeeze play.
"I was kind of nervous and shocked when I found out I was pitching," Rainer said. "But I was glad too because I was getting my shot. I was still nervous after the two walks but I knew I had to settle down and throw strikes."
Rainer spent the junior varsity season primarily in the outfield while Royal coaches worked on his pitching mechanics. Rainer was 9-0 as a freshman on the Simi Valley junior varsity in '94 but entered the Royal program complaining of a sore and stiff elbow.
"It was kind of hard," Maye said. "He was thinking, 'I haven't gotten beat and you guys are telling me I've got to change.' But he had to break some habits."
Now, everyone knows what the fuss was about. Rainer was the center of a controversy this year that led to the forced resignation of Simi Valley Coach Mike Scyphers.
Ray Rainer, Mike's father, accused Scyphers of phoning his son and persuading him to stay with the Simi Valley program instead of enrolling at Royal, a violation of the Southern Section undue-influence rule.
Rainer started the school year at Simi Valley then transferred to Royal, joining his twin brother Matt, a right-hander who also was promoted to varsity for the playoffs. Royal was eliminated Friday in a 7-6 loss to Ayala.
Mike Rainer was ineligible for the varsity until the Southern Section granted him a hardship waiver halfway through the season.
Rainer is delighted that finally he is making news on the field.
"It felt really good to take advantage of the situation," he said. "I'm glad the coaches had confidence in me."
Scyphers' separation from baseball might turn out to be a short one.
After his resignation at the end of the season, the 42-year-old coach said he planned to stay off the field for at least one year to spend more time with his three children.
He also will not pursue a teaching and coaching job in Idaho. Jack Dyck, a former Beverly Hills High basketball coach and teammate of Scyphers on the Cal State Northridge basketball team in the 1970s, is the athletic director at Sand Point High in Idaho and had actively recruited Scyphers for the school's baseball job.
But Scyphers already has been contacted by two Southern California junior colleges and his plan to stay on the sidelines might prove difficult to maintain.
"I need at least a year off," he said. "I want to spend time with my family. My son [Bret] is in the third grade. I'd like to coach when he gets in high school. But that's a ways away."
Royal volleyball Coach Bob Ferguson is disappointed but not discouraged about his team's showing in its first season in Division I. The Highlanders went 16-3 and reached the quarterfinals before losing to Santa Barbara in five games.
While satisfactory to some, those achievements fall well below Royal's standards. The Highlanders had advanced to a section final in the six previous seasons, winning four titles, including last year's Division II championship. Previously, Royal had won the Division III title.
"Going from [Division III to Division II] was big, but two to one is a huge jump," Ferguson said. "Still, I thought an ambitious but realistic goal for us was the semifinals. I'm a little disappointed we didn't get farther."
Ferguson is convinced Royal can compete at Division I but only with a lot more work by his players.
"I'm going to urge all our players to play club volleyball and play year-round," he said. "They can play other sports, but a couple days a week they can play club and play beach volleyball in the summer.
"You can't be a part-timer and compete at this level."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
WHO'S HOT . . .
* El Camino Real sophomore Shaun Fishman has pitched six consecutive complete games. He has not given up a run in 15 of his last 16 innings.
* The Cleveland boys' 400-meter relay team of Russel Burwell, Damon Williams, Raunaq Savur and Charles Lee has lowered the school record six times this season. The foursome's third-place time of 41.79 seconds in Thursday's City Section championships moved them into a tie for 10th on the all-time region list and is the fastest clocking by a local team since 1988 when a Taft team anchored by Quincy Watts ran 41.25.