Saturday, October 18

ALCS Game 6--Don't Call It a Comeback

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE ALCS.

1. Don't call it a comeback, I been here for years.
--Ladies Love Cool James

Jose did not expect to be typing these words—ever—but LL Cool J is talking sense.

In the day and a half since the Red Sox recovered from a 7-0 seventh inning deficit to defeat the Tampax Bay Rays 8-7, the commentatiat has been abuzz with discussion of the “comeback.”

They are wrong. There was no comeback.

For something to be a comeback, it is a prerequisite that there was a point when defeat was the most likely outcome. While it may seem to those who have not been paying attention that defeat was the most likely outcome in Game 5 and in the series, to those of us who have been watching this team for the past five years, it is evident that victory was the most likely outcome.
Rockin my peers and puttin suckas in fear Makin the tears rain down like a MON-soon Listen to the bass go BOOM
BOOM. Ortiz homers.
BOOM. Dru homers.
Making runs Rain down like a MON-soon.

The thing about monsoons is that they don’t come out of nowhere. You see them coming. They happen every year like clockwork. What the Red Sox did last night was like a monsoon, terrifying but predictable.

Ever since Pokey Reese picked a little grounder on a cold October night in the Bronx, victory has been like a monsoon. Predictable, powerful. Victory has been the new normal. Before 2004, it was different. Defeat was the monsoon then. If now, being down 3-1 almost ensures victory, then being up 3-1 nearly guaranteed defeat. It’s not a choke if everyone expects you to lose; it’s just normal.
Explosion, overpowerin Over the competition, I'm towerin Wreckin shop, when I drop these lyrics that'll make you call the cops Don't you dare stare, you betta move Don't ever compare Me to the rest that'll all get sliced and diced Competition's payin the price
Don’t ever compare this to the great comebacks of the past. This is different. When the Bills came back from 35-3 at halftime to beat the Oilers, that was a comeback. When the Celtics reduced a 20-point deficit to zero in six minutes against the Lakers that was a comeback.

This was not a comeback, this is just how it’s gonna be. The Red Sox explode, they overpower, they competition pays the price.
I'm gonna knock you out (HUUUH!!!)
Mama said knock you out (HUUUH!!!)

Don't Call it a comeback.
2. You are Josh Beckett, and tonight you are pitching for your life.

It is game six. Your team is down three games to two and you literally have no purpose on this Earth other than to win tonight’s game. This is not a misuse of “literally” a la Joe Biden. Jose is not saying “literally” when he means figuratively. If you do not win this game, you will in the most meaningful sense, cease to exist.

You are not like other people. Other people, even when the stakes are high, have things to fall back on. When Dice K pitched poorly in Game 5 he got to fall back on an adoring nation. When Wakefield pitched poorly in Game 4, he got to fall back on his reputation as a humanitarian. When Lester pitched poorly in Game 3, he got to fall back on a loving family. (Note: Lot of poor pitching on that list isn’t there?) They get to do this because they are people, complex and multi-faceted, three-dimensional entities in a three dimensional world. You cannot fall back on something else because you are not a person. You, Josh Beckett, are a pitcher.

People do not like you. And by all reports, this is with good reason. You are, they say, not a pleasant fellow. You lack social graces. You do not tell amusing anecdotes. In fact, you are kind of a dick. You do not bring comfort to the afflicted, or joy to the sad. You do not nurture, and you do not nourish. All you can do, all you are good for is throwing a horsehide on the corners at frightening velocity.

So do it already. Hit the corners. Snap off the curve.

Pitch, you bastard. Pitch.

If you cannot pitch, then you are not. That is not a typo, there is not a noun missing from the end. A drill that cannot drill is not, and a pitcher who cannot pitch is not. Absent the ability to thrown strikes, to make hitters swing and miss, you are the null set, a void, utter nothing.

So when you take the mound tonight, do not do.


You are a pitcher.

And all a pitcher does it pitch.

3. Jose has muttonchops now.

They’re quite stylish in an 1860s kind of way. He got them in the way that everyone from New England got whatever odd deformity, affect or odor they have right now. He acquired them after the fifth inning. Now he has to keep them.

After the Sox bowed in the fifth, Jose did what all right thinking people did; he changed his facial hair and went to a bar. The playoff beard wasn’t working so he reduced it to Yaz style mutton chops and a goatee. His house wasn’t working so he left and went to a bar. Not singing Cab Calloway classics wasn’t working so he sang Minnie the Moocher at karaoke. And presto change-o by the time he had finished belting out “Poor Min, poor Min, poor Min” The Sox had one in, two on and Big Papi at the plate.

Jose is well aware that none of this works and none of this matters, but it can’t possibly hurt, right? Well, except for Jose’s possibility of getting a job. Muttonchops tend not to impress employers unless one is seeking work in the Grand Army of the Republic.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE ALCS.

Thursday, October 16

ALCS Game 5-God Does Not Play Dice

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE ALCS.

1. “God does not play dice.”

That’s what Einstein said when faced with the problems of quantum mechanics. He was wrong, of course. God does play dice. And he makes some stupid bets too. Horn high yo? Please.

What Einstein did not discuss, however, was the inverse. While God may or may not play dice, we know for certain that tonight, Dice plays God.

To play God, or at least a god, is to have the power over life and death. And that is the awful power that the man from Japan has on this fall evening. If he pitches well, the Red Sox live, if he pitches poorly, the Red Sox die. Heads or tails, on or off. It is really that simple, and that difficult.

So what do the Red Sox want tonight? What all those on the verge of death crave—to remain alive. We would like to remain alive for another month, but we would take another week, another day, even another hour. The Red Sox know this craving; we have felt it before. We felt it in 2004, when we remained on life support for days and in 2007. We know what it is like to fear that each breath is your last. But we also know how divine it is to taunt death, to escape his icy grip and flip him the bird.

Justin Masterson knows. The pious pitcher informed his Facebook friends that he is “happy to be alive. He gets it. Masterson has taken to heart the simple message of a preacher from Pittsburgh “It’s such a good feeling to know you’re alive.”

And on Friday morning, when the series is 3-2 Jose, and Justin Masterson and Dice K will make a snappy new day. Jose will be back, when they day is new, and he will have more KEYS for you. You’ll have things you want to talk about. Jose… will… too.

2. According to Wikipedia, Tampa is a Calusa Indian word that means “sticks of fire.”

Having watched the Rays brutalize Red Sox pitching, for three straight games, it seems that the first settlers of what is now Hillsborough County saw something coming. The Tampa sticks have been alight.

But Jose knows a thing or two about fire (note: he got his fireman ‘chit as a Scout), and it gives him reason to be hopeful. Let’s put it this way, there is a reason that eternal flames are not fueled by wood. Wood burns bright and beautiful crackling and colorful, but all of sudden, a funny thing happens—it goes out. There is no doubt that the Rays’ sticks have been burning bright for three nights now, but they cannot burn forever. They are not the Maccabees, we are not the Syrians and this is not Chanukah.

3. Jose spent much of Monday and Tuesday hanging around with a dog named Kazmir. It might have been Cashmere on Kashmir, but those are all really just regional variations on spelling. Little did he know at the time, that his aunt and uncle’s dog would get the call to start for Tampax Bay in the crucial fifth game of the ALCS.

Joe Maddon has managed brilliantly this series, but you’ve got to wonder what he’s thinking right now. Given the opportunity to choose between pitching Jamie Shields, who has been brilliant in the post season and a dog, he went with the dog.
What’s that, tonight’s starting pitcher is a man named Kazmir and not a canine? Are you sure? Well, what’s the difference? Neither of them is going to pick up the win tonight and either of them would have been a good acquisition in return for Victor Zambrano.

Actually, check that, there is one difference. The dog, when he barks enough can actually convince people that he’s dangerous. There’s nothing the lefty can do these days to scare anyone.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE ALCS.

Tuesday, October 14

ALCS Game 4--My Name is Wakefield

It's time for Jose Melendez's KEYS TO THE ALCS.

1. Jose though a lot about not writing for today’s game.

Why should he? If the Red Sox aren’t going to bother to show up for a critical ALCS game, then why should Jose? The Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit in 2004 and a 3-1 deficit in 2007, so why should Jose even worry until the season is on the line?

In fact, it made sense for Jose to skip out on writing. He had a long day of touring Montgomery (note: move along, nothing to see here) and traveling to Atlanta and he was tired. After sucking down half a burger for dinner with his cousin Chris, Chris’s girlfriend Jen and his fellow travelers, catching a little bit of blues at the Northside and then going to sleep seemed like a perfectly reasonable alternative to writing a baseball blog about a team that was humiliated and didn’t even seem to care.

But something happened at the Northside, a dank Atlanta bar where upon entering one seems about as likely to be murdered as to see some good blues. The band showed up late. They showed up late, but they showed up. On a Monday night they showed up. In front of ten people they showed up. For almost certainly no money, they showed up. And they wailed. In front of ten patrons, half shooting pool or playing Donkey Kong, the other half quietly pulling on Pabst tall boys, they wailed. Johnny Triggers and his accomplices played as thought it were Friday night at CBGB, as if they were Robert Johnson on the Mississippi Delta. They played with all the fire and fury of a Baptist revival.

The patrons showed up too. Not many, but the folks who were there, well three of them anyway, roared into action as the band struck up Folsom Prison Blues. A graying lump of a man, a San Antonio native turned Atlanta long timer, sucked from a pitcher gripped tightly in each fist as a tromped around the dance floor, hopping up on to chairs, making sweet love to a supporting column for the roof and writhing on the floor like a fish on the door of sweet death. He was joined by two other men, younger fellows, but at least as drunk, swinging each other around, gesticulating like an epileptic on crack… convulsing.

“I have seen some crazy things in this bar,” said Jen. “I have seen a couple go at it on the bar. I have seen men who did not know it dance with prostitutes but I have never seen this.”

It was a Monday night.

It was a Monday night and fueled by nothing more potent than beer and Jack with a chaser of self-loathing, these men had shown up and given it their all.

So why couldn’t Jose?

Why couldn’t Jose show up on the proverbial Monday night of the ALCS? Why couldn’t the Red Sox?

What the Red Sox need, what Jose needs, is to go mad. We need to writhe on the floor; we need to convulse; we need to double fist pitchers of watery suds. It’s what Kevin Millar would do. It’s what the Red Sox must do. It’s what Jose will do.

2. You know what? Maybe we don’t understand the Rays? Maybe we have to get inside of their skulls to have a chance at beating them. Jose has done some research and he has turned up some insights from one of the most celebrated Rays of all, Ray Kroc the founder of McDonald’s, which Jose assumes is some kind of Scottish restaurant.

Kroc said, and this is important, that “We take the hamburger business more seriously than anyone else.”

Think about that. Consider the fact that the Rays have had access to that kind of wisdom for the entire year and we just got it now. Wait, that doesn’t seem right. The difference of hamburgers in yesterdays game was at most two runs and we lost by like eight.

“Creativity is a highfalutin word for the work I have to do between now and Tuesday.” There we go, that makes some sense. The Rays know what they have to do between now and Tuesday (note: today). Do the Sox?

We need to hit. That’s creativity. We need to pitch. That’s creativity. We need to catch—creativity. We need to throw—curiously, not creativity. If watching soccer has taught Jose anything, it’s that Kroc is right. Matches are won by creativity, specifically creativity in the midfield, and if the Sox have it Jose has not seen it. It’s Tuesday men, let’s create.

3. It’s up to Wakefield. That’s fine Weezer is down with it.

My name is Timmy
I'm hurling for my team
Haven’t pitched in weeks
But this is now a theme

Come and pitch Game Four
Don’t let Tampa Score
I don’t need the dome
I’ll pitch fine at home
In the LCS
I have pitched my best
On two weeks of rest.
Let me tell you 'bout it

The knuckler can travel through time
A break that makes you lose your mind
The batter said, "Hey man, how’s it move that way"
They couldn’t get the ball into play.

My name is Wakefield
I keep my nails filed real fine
Ain’t got much of a fastball
But this game is still mine
It’s still mine...

“Tell me what to do.
We can’t hit this guy.
Never pitches flat”
And you know what else?
Guess what I received in the mail today
Words of deep concern from my manager

The series goes not as he planned
Big Papi has injured his hand
Beckett can’t throw for a strike
So he grooves them right down the pike.

The Red Sox are playin’ at home
The Red Sox are playin’ at home
The Red Sox are playin’ at home


The Red Sox are playin’ at home
The Red Sox are playin’ at home
The Red Sox are playin’ at home
Yeah yeah yeah

My name is Wakefield.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE ALCS.

Monday, October 13

ALCS Game 3--We Need to Be More Desperate

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE ALCS.

1. On Saturday, for the first time since 2003, Jose missed parts of a Red Sox playoff game. There were innings that he did not see on television, that he did not hear on the radio, that he did not even follow on Gamecast.

Jose was in Chattanooga, Tennessee on vacation and was doing what one does in Chattanooga, namely, going out to eat ribs. Jose had made the perfectly reasonable assumption that at any rib joint, the ALCS would be on at the bar. He was wrong. Apparently, in Chattanooga people would rather watch a college football game between two non-local games that will probably give everyone watching it eye cancer than a critical contest in the national pastime.

Jose wasn’t sure what to think. At first he was angry. How dare these people claim to be the real Americans, when they won’t even watch the national pastime? Any yokel can wear a flag pin, but sitting through a 5 and a half hour game? That takes some real patriotism and commitment to country.

Next he felt pity. How sad that these people don’t know the joy, the salvation that comes from Red Sox baseball.

Then he felt angry again. Finally he felt hungry, so he relied on the four different varieties of pork ribs to sooth his agitated soul.

The point is that when Jose left his hotel room, the Red Sox were up 2-0 with two outs in the bottom of the first, and when he returned, seven home runs later, they were down 8-6. Perhaps, the Tennesseans were on to something. Yes Jose missed five innings, but what had he really missed? Heartbreak? Anger? Despair? A $500 tab for smashing a hotel television?

By almost every normal standard, it would appear that Jose had made the right choice. He avoided pain (the blown lead) and received pleasure (ribs). He should have been a happy man. And yet he wasn’t.

Jose looks forward to this; we look forward to this. We crave the opportunity to feel. We are addicts. And like any addict we have built up tolerance. It is no longer enough to enjoy the elation of victory. We need it to hurt, to drag us through excruciating pain to create an ever-sharper contrast with the pleasure. We came back from 3-0 against the Yankees. We came back from 3-1 against the Indians. We will not feel truly alive in this series until we have to come back from down four games to the Rays. And that is where the danger lies. You can’t go down by four games. It is against the rules. It is up to the Red Sox to remember that in the relentless pursuit of thrills, of greater and greater highs, getting down four games is the overdose of playoff baseball—exciting but fatal.

2. Following St. Josh a Beckett’s second straight horrendous post-season outing, it is probably safe for us to assume that his oblique is not fine and that he is seriously injured. This is a problem, a big problem, but it is not unsolvable. There is precedent for remedying this. It’s just a few simple steps:
1. The team physician invents a procedure that temporarily fixes a strained oblique.
2. The physician practices the technique on dead people.
3. Beckett receives the procedure before each remaining start.
4. Beckett bleeds out of his wound and on to his jersey.
5. People talk about how heroic Beckett is.
6. Red Sox win the World Series
7. Beckett puts on 40 pounds.
8. People who don’t like Beckett start suggesting that the blood was fake and he just spilled marinara sauce on his shirt because look at him, he’s a fat slob.
If the Red Sox pursue these simple steps, Jose is pretty sure the old Josh Beckett will be ready for Game 6.

3. Sons of Sam Horn Stalwart Tudor Fever raised a great question the other day. “What is ‘Kotsay’ Pig Latin for? Jose is not a Latin Scholar, his second tongue is Gibberish, but he still knows enough—he thinks—to give it a try.

So we decline it right? And then decline it again? And we remove the “ay,” move the “s” to the front. And we get “Skot.” Suddenly, the reason for Kotsay’s inability to hit becomes clear—he’s a Scott. Think of the Scott’s in Red Sox history, Scoot, Williamson, Scott Sauerbeck, Scott Cassidy, Scott Bankhead and Scott Taylor were all pitchers. Scott Fletcher wasn’t a pitcher, but he hit like one. That leaves us with Scott Cooper, the worst two-time All-Star in MLB history as the upside for Scotts.

Of course, there is some evidence that while our translation is correct, our interpretation is lacking. Skot, is the translation of Kotsay’s last name, so perhaps the better historical analogy is George Scott. If Kotsay can hit like Boomer, that would help.

On a related note, since Jason Bay’s name ends in “ay” it is presumably Pig Latin as well, but what can it possibly be Pig Latin for? It would have to just be “B” right? In which case it’s good he’s playing in Boston, because if his name is “B” and he had a “”P on his head, like in his Pirate days, it might really confuse people.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE ALCS.