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Diaz’s Efforts Give Poly Something to Shout About

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The familiar-sounding chant bellowing from inside the yellow school bus was deafening, but it put an ear-to-ear smile on the face of Poly High pitcher Eric Diaz.

Errrrric. Errrrric. Errrrric.

The Parrots didn’t seem to mind waiting on the bus for Diaz, who was finishing up the last of several postgame interviews after Poly’s 3-2 victory over Chatsworth in Monday’s City Section 4-A Division semifinal.

His teammates even applauded when Diaz finally stepped inside the bus. After all, this is the guy who earned all three Poly playoff victories en route to tonight’s championship game against San Pedro at Dodger Stadium.

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“I really felt I was gonna help this team a lot,” Diaz said, “but I didn’t really think that I was gonna be the guy to decide all these three games.”

Diaz, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound senior right-hander, has been consistent throughout the season. But he has taken his game to a higher level during the playoffs.

Last week, Diaz beat Van Nuys, 5-4, in relief. Two days later, he allowed Kennedy only four hits in a 1-0 victory in the quarterfinals. Neither team scored against Diaz in 9 1/3 innings. He gave up only five hits, struck out seven and walked one.

Diaz (11-2) lowered his earned-run average to 1.49 with his shutout against Kennedy. He keeps his game plan simple.

“What I try to do in every game is just throw strikes,” Diaz said.

Against Van Nuys, Diaz replaced left-hander Allen Alegria in the fifth inning. The Wolves had just rallied to score three runs in the inning to take a 4-2 lead. Van Nuys had runners on first and third with two out.

Diaz’s first pitch to Benjamin Villa was a strike. One pitch later, he got Villa to hit into a force out to end the threat.

“When I came in, I said (to myself), ‘We can’t lose to Van Nuys. . . . Any other team, but not to Van Nuys,’ ” Diaz said.

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Diaz gave up an infield hit to Refugio Pulido to lead off the sixth but retired the next six batters to stop the Wolves, allowing Poly to stage its comeback. The top-seeded Parrots (21-4) rallied for three runs in the seventh.

Winning is familiar to Diaz, who is 15-2 over the past two seasons, but it hasn’t always come easy. Poly’s road to success included a rocky start. Poly lost two of its first three games, and was 8-4 before a pivotal game against Birmingham.

As Coach Jerry Cord juggled the lineup, Diaz discovered that he was not exempt from losing his position as a starting pitcher.

His fate was placed in his own hands April 15, when assistant Bob Mesa presented Diaz with an ultimatum shortly before a Valley Pac-8 Conference game against Birmingham.

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“Bob came and told me, ‘You gotta do good in this one, Eric. I’m sorry, but Coach (Cord) told me if you don’t, you’re going to become a reliever,’ ” Diaz said.

“And I didn’t want to be a reliever.”

Diaz threw a four-hitter to beat Birmingham. One week later, he one-hit Sylmar.

“Since that Sylmar game, he’s just been great,” Cord said. “He’s not going to blow it by people, but he keeps the ball down.”

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Diaz has won 10 consecutive games since losing to Monroe, 3-1, on March 26.

But despite the success that Diaz has had on the mound, he still dreams of what might have been. Diaz, who began pitching six years ago, has always thought of himself as a third baseman.

"(Cord) never took me seriously,” Diaz said. “In Little League I was always a third baseman and I made all-stars four years in a row.”

Diaz has proved his worth to Cord as a batter, however. He bats for himself and is the Parrots’ designated hitter in the No. 3 spot when he is not on the mound. This season he is 26 of 76 (.342) with 17 runs batted in and 20 runs scored.

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“His bat is what has been invaluable to us,” Cord said.

Diaz hasn’t exactly given up the dream of playing third base--he’s looking forward to it.

“I really think I have a better future as an infielder and a hitter,” Diaz said.

If his prospects at third are anything like his pitching feats, future teammates likely will be chanting his name for years to come.

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