PALM DESERT — Steve Garvey was part of numerous clutch victories in his 19-year Major League Baseball career but he couldn't recall feeling this emotional after a win.
The legendary Dodgers first baseman was briefly at a loss for words Tuesday after watching the Palm Desert High School baseball team score twice with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to defeat Westlake Village Oaks Christian, 2-1, in a Southern Section Division 4 semifinal at College of the Desert.
Garvey’s son, Ryan Garvey, is a senior center fielder for the top-seeded Aztecs, who advanced to the championship game Friday afternoon at Garvey’s place of employment for 14 years, Dodger Stadium. Palm Desert will meet the winner of tonight’s semifinal between La Puente Bishop Amat and Torrance.
“It has been destiny, just to get back to Dodger Stadium,” Steve Garvey said with a shaky voice and glistening eyes. “This is what champions do, champions never give up.”
Then he dropped a little secret on what to look for in the championship game, something the casual observer might not notice but would be an especially proud moment for the 1974 National League MVP.
“You might see Ryan at first base for an inning,” Garvey said before hurrying off to congratulate the team and photograph the on-field celebration.
In the other dugout, the son of another Los Angeles sports luminary, Oaks Christian first baseman Trevor Gretzky, tried to make sense of his team’s collapse.
“They had a good last inning,” Gretzky said of the Aztecs. “Hats off to them.”
Gretzky, the son of Hall of Fame hockey player, Wayne Gretzky, drove in the only run for Oaks Christian with a one-out double over Garvey’s head in the first inning. He later used his 6-foot-4 frame to reach over the fence to snare a foul pop fly off the bat of Garvey, leaving the Lions just three outs from the championship game.
“I could have done more,” said Gretzky, who also grounded out with runners on first and second and one out in the third and struck out to end the fifth.
Still, Gretzky’s RBI appeared as if it might be enough, thanks to Oaks Christian left-hander Travis Radke (11-2), who carried a three-hitter into the seventh inning. He issued a lead-off walk to John Schuknecht, then retired the next two batters.
He fell behind, 3-0, to Brooks Kriske, who then lined a 3-and-1 pitch into the gap that was bobbled long enough to allow Schuknecht to score from first. Kriske took third on the throw home, marking the only extra-base hit Radke allowed this season.
“I was ready to drive a fastball there, come up big again,” said Kriske, who hit a two-run walk-off homer in the 10th to defeat Sonora in a quarterfinal, 6-4.
Cody Kabeary, the No. 8 hitter for Palm Desert, then stepped up and hit the first pitch from Radke up the middle. Second-baseman Blake McFadden backhanded the ball, but his rushed throw sailed over the head of Gretzky as Kriske scored the winning run.
“I was just waiting for the first-pitch fastball because I knew he was going to throw that,” Kabeary said. “Right when I got it, I took my hack.”
Palm Desert won the Division 4 title last season with a 9-0 victory against Torrance, but that game was played at the Dodgers’ minor-league stadium in Lake Elsinore. Garvey was smiling from ear to ear as he talked about finally getting a chance to play at Dodger Stadium.
“Something I prayed for ever since I was a freshman,” said Garvey, who signed with USC last fall. “Nothing feels better than this right now.”
At least until he gets the chance to trot out to first base Friday night.