Players dragged the field happily, rock music blared over the loudspeakers and general merriment reigned at El Camino Real High on a bright, breezy Wednesday afternoon. And why not? The host Conquistadores were celebrating a 6-0 whitewash of Birmingham in the City Section 4-A Division baseball quarterfinals.
But any backslapping for catcher Bobby Kim, whose two-run home run in the first inning provided the only necessary offense, had better be just that: backslapping.
Don't slap his hand until Friday at least, when El Camino Real (20-2-1) will meet San Fernando, a 7-3 winner over Kennedy, in the semifinals. Don't bruise the tender paw that was on the receiving end of smoke-throwing left-hander Ryan McGuire's seventh inning of terror.
"I thought he was going to break my hand," Kim said, only half-jokingly.
Three outs from closing his three-hit shutout, McGuire (7-1) accelerated Birmingham's demise. He fanned Mike Malkin on three pitches, sat down Ruben Flores on four, and, with two hard strikes on Mike Belasco, induced an opposite-field bloop to end his performance with authority.
All heat-seeking missiles.
The display delighted the 400 in attendance and fairly burned Birmingham (19-7-1), which didn't quite know what had hit it.
"We were trying to hit his fastballs," said Birmingham Coach Wayne Sink, who coached his last game after 26 years at the school. "But he just literally blew it by us. . . . He's the hardest thrower we've seen all year."
"Those were the fastest balls I've caught all year," Kim said. "I was giving him the breaking ball and he was shaking me off. He was just pumping gas."
That McGuire, who finished his third shutout with six strikeouts, would even start was in question up until Tuesday. It seems El Camino Real Coach Mike Maio was leaning toward 6-foot-4 Pat Treend, he of the 11-0 record. But according to McGuire, he and Treend ganged up on the coach.
"Coach wanted to pitch Pat," McGuire said. "But we had a discussion. He had all his stats and numbers out. He's got more numbers and stats than the Elias Baseball Bureau. He knows stuff about me that I don't know about me. He's like Rain Man.
"But Pat and myself, we tend to go on how we feel."
McGuire had room to breathe after Kim's 380-foot-plus blast to straightaway center field off left-hander Jason Mansfield (5-5). El Camino Real pushed across a run in the second on Jeff Marks' fielder's choice with the bases full and added two more in the fourth on Marks' two-run single. A sacrifice fly by Josh Massey in the fifth closed out the scoring.
In lobbying for McGuire, wasn't Treend forfeiting center stage?
"Oh, no," McGuire said with a grin. "He gets the glory. He gets to pitch on Friday."