Friday, April 6

Rock, Paper, Scissors

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME

1. He really is “The Devious One.”

Forget about the snazzy array of fastballs, sliders and change ups Mr. Matsu showed yesterday in his American debut, forget about the fact that, for the first time since Pedro left town, a Red Sox game had that “any time this guy pitches something amazing could happen” feeling. Forget it all. What struck Jose was the mind games. Devious, indeed.

According to the Red Sox radio broadcast, prior to the game Mr. Matsu apparently announced that his first regular season pitch in the Majors was going to be a fastball. He came right on out and said it. That is, of course, insane. David DeJesus is a legitimate Major Leaguer, and near .300 hitter, and you’re just going to tell him what the first pitch is? It is lunacy, it is irresponsible, it is… brilliant.

It’s like Rock, Paper, Scissors really. For years, Jose could not beat his brother at RPS. Couldn’t do it. Whenever there was an important decision to be made, like who would get the window seat on an airplane, or who would get mom’s liver in a pinch, we’d go RPS, and Jose would lose. Every time he would lose. Maybe he could pick out one win in a best of three series, but he was absolutely the pre-2004 Red Sox. No matter what he did, no matter what he tried, he always came up short. But then he learned to be devious. One day, he heard a story on NPR about the world Rock, Paper, Scissors championship. In it, the reporter went up against a professional, who told her, in a very intense manner, before they began “I’m going to throw rock.” And here’s the amazing thing. He did throw rock. And he won.

He told her what he was going to do, he did it, and she responded by doing the one thing that would guarantee defeat, throwing scissors. Jose was amazed. Since then, he has adopted this strategy. And his fortunes have changed considerably. Now he reliably wins RPS showdowns with his brother by declaring “Jose is going to throw rock” before each throw. And in his brother’s eyes, in that brief second before the throw, Jose can tell what he’s thinking, whether he sees the loyal and honest brother, who surely would never lie about something as inconsequential as his next throw, or whether he sees the aggressive older brother, twisting his arm behind his back until he tapped out in backyard wrestling matches. And with that knowledge, Jose can identify the right throw to make.

This is basically what Matsuzaka did yesterday. He looked David DeJesus, straight in the eye, told him what he was going to throw, and then threw it.

The truth. How much more devious can you get?

Because while it was the truth in that case, the truth sets up the future lie. He did what he said he was going to do, making it all the more astonishing at some key point in the future when Mr. Matsu will reveal what he plans to do and then NOT do it. Even the home run DeJesus hit in the sixth (note: by the way, he fouled off Dice-K’s first pitch) was probably an ultimate setup for something big down the road. At least, that’s Jose’s story.

But this is far bigger than DeJesus.

Sometime in the future, Mr. Matsu will casually tip a pitch, let some critical batter know his plan, perhaps at the biggest moment of his career. And at that moment, the batter will know, will be certain, that the fastball is coming. After all, Matsuzaka told the truth to David DeJesus. And he’ll see it in slow motion, the ball flying out of Dice-Ks hand, spinning toward the plate.

“He did it, he really did it,” the batter will think. “He tipped fastball, and now it’s coming. I’ve got a bead on it, I’m going to crush, it. I’m going to be the hero.”

His shoulder makes the violent transition from cocked to swinging, his weight shifts from back foot to front, and the slab of ash whips around like a… well, like a whip. Collision imminent, bat to ball, he tenses his forearm ready for the recoil, and then…
Back to full speed. The ball drops. Drops heavy, like a ton of bricks on Jupiter. Woosh. Strike three, side retired.

And there’s the batter, twisted, contorted, with nothing to do, nothing to think save “But he tipped fastball. He told me he was throwing fastball.”

Rock, paper scissors shoot.

God, the truth can be devious.

2. With all of the attention that has been lavished on Matsuzaka thus far, all of the in depth analysis of his pitches, his background, his wife, the origin of his first name, foods that have been named for him and so on, you’d think someone would have paid attention to his atypically spectacular ass. But no.

Not until someone asked Rococo Crisp to comment on how Matsuzaka looked from center field, did anyone bother to point out “He’s got a nice butt.”

How has this not been news? Jose can say, as a nominally Japanese guy, that we are not known for our butts. We are not a proud-assed people. And yet, Matsuzaka has the stamp of approval from his center fielder. This is nothing short of astonishing. It is as improbable as the birth of a two headed pig, the emergence of an eight foot tall man or Alfonso Soriano taking a walk. Jose never thought he’d see it in his life time and yet here it is. For decades we Japanese have been know for our craftsmanship, our austere elegance and our mastery of kung fu, but now, at long last, we are finally, finally know for producing one great ass.

The pride of a nation

3. According to the bloated harpies at the Inside Track, Megatron Lowe, has been conducting a revisionist campaign to rewrite the story of his failed marriage. According to Lowe, he did not begin to engage in sexual intercourse with Fox Sports Net reporter Carolyn Hughes until after his marriage had ended, despite strong evidence to the contrary. “We just made out,” said the formerly Paranoid Android (note: in Jose’s imagination). “And it’s been established by Congress that oral does not is not adultery. So no big deal.”

Lowe added “Also, I never got taken out of the rotation for the 2004 playoffs, I asked to go to long relief. And I won two games in the 2003 ALCS. Also, I am the Sultan of Freedonia.”

In related news, Derek Lowe is still a hero, a legend really. He’s a sort of sleazy adulterous hero, but a hero nevertheless.

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

Thursday, April 5

Novelty Food

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME

1. You know what Jose loves about having a new star athlete in town? He loves all of the gimmick foods they come up with to leech off of the new guy’s celebrity, the ichi-roll in Seattle, Wade Boggs’ “.352 Bar” candy, Tim’s Pickled Na(Herring) and, of course, the delicious Rico Bolonga. (Note: Jose’s Bologna has a first name, it is R-I-C-O.)

And now you’ve got Mr. Matsu. It’s terrific that some Japanese restaurants have introduced some special Matsuzaka-themed products like Matsuzaka Maki, and the like, but let’s be honest that’s not that imaginative. Naming a sushi roll after a Japanese ball player? How’s that more clever than, say El Pelon Taqueria naming a burrito after Rich Garces or Zaftigs naming a knish after Kevin Youkilis.

Actually, Jose brings up Youks for a reason, in that, Boston’s Jewish community has taken the lead in provide creative ideas on the Matsuzaka-themed food front. Apparently, in honor of the Japanese star’s debut, the Jewish community has not only named a food after him, but plan to incorporate it into their ancient religious rites. The novelty food, a flat, cracker like item, completely without leavening agents is used in the “Passover” ritual, an annual rite that commemorates the great miracle in 1994 when eleven teams “passed over” Nomar Garciaparra for players lie Ben Grieve and Antone Williamson to allow the Red Sox to pick him in the twelfth spot. The cracker used in the commemoration of this Passover honors the Japanese righty by taking the simple, sweet name “Matsu.”

That said, a note to the good people at Manischewitz, you misspelled Daisuke’s name. It’s M-A-T-S-U, not M-A-T-Z-O-H. Still, it’s a solid, creative effort.

2. Great news everyone, Sox skipper Terry Eurona has seen a picture of Mt. Fuji. When asked whether he had any advice for Mr. Matsu on how to dress in the cold weather, Tito replied “They’ve got snow on their mountains, don’t they? There’s got to be some cold weather.” He’s sharp, that Tito.

Later when asked how he expected his team’s many Domincans to manage through the dog days of summer, Tito answered “The tropics are hot!” He also responded questions about Jonathan Paplebon‘s ability to return to the closer job by stating “there was a hurricane in Louisiana” and questions about Jason Varitek’s alma mater Georgia Tech is in a state founded as a debtors prison.

By the way, as long as we’re talking about non-answers to questions. Jose, as a former media professional, would like to offer Tito some advice. You know how Jimy Williams would answer every question “manager’s decision?” Jose would like to see Tito adopt his own avoid all phrase. Jose’s thought is that Eurona should rip off those guys who put the Cartoon Network LED’s all over Boston, and answer every annoying question “I’m sorry, that’s not a hair related question.” This is great because a) Tito is bald b) there’s lots of wacky hair on the Red Sox and c) it could potential force Dan Shaughnessy to address his nappy ‘fro. An equally good evasive answer would be “I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here to be positive about this subject.”

Do you think Curt struggled becasuse he's been blogging too much?

Sorry, sir, but that's not a hair-related question.

3. Which do you think is getting bigger press coverage in Japan, Daisuke Matsuzaka’s Major League debut this week or the induction of the legendary Mr. Fuji into the WWF Hall of Fame? Also, since Mr. Matsu has any number of crafty and duplicitous pitches, would it be alright to steal Mr. Fuji’s nickname “The Devious One” and apply it to him or would that be racist? Jose thinks it would be fine, because the Pearl Harbor driven stereotype of Japanese as sneaky really went out with the invention of the Toyota. It would really only be racist if Jose started calling him “The Mathematically Gifted One.”

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

Wednesday, April 4


It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME

1. Today is only the second game of the season, and already Jose needs to run a correction. Absurd and pathetic isn’t it? A skilled journalist like Jose making a terrible error in on of the biggest KEYS of the year? Well, Jose is nothing if not honest about his flaws (Note: For instance, his left hand is almost useless. He can’t dribble with it, nothing. It’s like he’s Casey Fossum.) And unlike newspaper types who would correct their page 1 error on page D35 special advertising supplement for Trans-Dniester “Land of Intrigue,” Jose will correct a first KEY error in a first KEY. Ready? Okay, here goes.

CORRECTION: In the KEYS TO THE GAME feature on Monday, April 2, 2007 Anno Domini, the author wrote “as bad as yesterday may have been, today will be, it must be, better, because today there will be baseball.”

Many KEYS readers sat down to watch Opening Day assuming that the reporting was accurate. It was not. Monday, April 2 was not better because there was baseball. It was worse. You know; you saw the game. The text should have read “as bad as yesterday may have been, today will be, it must be, better, because today there will be baseball. Unless Curt Euro totally implodes, in which case the day and the day after it will be total crap.” The management of KEYS TO THE GAME apologizes for any distress this error may have caused readers. On the other hand, grow up, it’s not like we poisoned any dogs.

2. Today is the season’s first start for St. Josh Beckett as he tries to put a difficult 2006 season, wherein he sent more men home happy than Hazel Mae, behind him. The problem, most have theorized, is that Beckett was so enamored of his marvelous fastball that he couldn’t stop throwing it… ever. Narcissus on the Charles, if you will. Jose thinks there is a lot of truth to this. Doing the same thing over and over again without variation is a) a sign of mental illness and b) leaves one exposed to all kinds of threats. A monoculture crop gets completely decimated by a new pest. An undiversified stock portfolio is rendered worthless by one company’s collapse. And an unwavering fastball, 97 mph though it may fly, is launched into the night.

If you need more proof that variation is essential to success, consider the case of Wade Boggs. Boggs was brilliant hitter, but he was known for his compulsive routines, most famously eating chicken every single game day, without fail. And you know what that got him? Well, into the Hall of Fame. But do you know where it got him after that? To the WWF Hall of Fame. That’s right Wade Boggs, a legend, a master hitter, was reduced to inducting the late Mr. Perfect Curt Henning into the WWF Hall of Fame last week, and all because he only ate chicken before games. Pathetic. An actual Hall of Famer went to the induction ceremony of the only Hall of Fame that would admit Pete Rose (note: in the Hall’s celebrity wing). (Additional Note: Actually, including Rose in the WWF Hall seems like a good compromise. He gets to be in a Hall of Fame, but he’s surrounded with other athletes who fix matches. If just once in a while, Boggs had mixed in a little lamb, maybe some moussaka, this never would have happened. Never.

Though maybe it’s not so bad. Boggs and Henning weren’t so different. They were both elite athletes who relied on finesse rather than power. Moreover, they were both managed by geniuses, Henning by “The Genius” Lanny Poffo, and Boggs by John McNamara.

Anyway, long story short, Beckett needs to mix in his curve ball more effectively this year or one of these days we’re going to see him in a tux talking about how much the legendary Issac Yankem DMD meant to professional wrestling and the dental community.

3. Jose is not, as you know, a religious man. He likes God. He has positive feelings towards God, but sometimes, when he thinks too much, he gets skeptical. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why would a just God allow the Red Sox to make the Bard/Meredith trade? That sort of thing drives doubt into his heart. But Jose has good news on this front. It turns out that God exists. Not only does he exist, but he is just, which is great, because justice in any of its non-David forms is absolutely terrific. And you know how Jose knows? Empirical evidence. That’s right, put that in your Sunday mornings uninterrupted by boring sermons about loving your neighbor but not making love too your neighbor, atheist scum!

“But what’s the proof?” you ask. “Is it Christ’s glorious resurrection? The 2004 ALCS? Billy Dee Williams making a cameo on Lost?” Nope. It’s so much simpler… and more profound.

On August 1, 2006 Jose wrote “How can there be a just God if skinny Jason Johnson has diabetes, and fat David Wells gets to keep stuffing his face with cakes and donuts and pies?”

It’s a great question isn’t it? But God speaks to us. He is still speaking to us. Not in words or visions, not in a burning bush or from atop a mountain, but in simple, every day acts of divinity, like giving David Wells diabetes.

Thank you God, thank you for making Jose believe again. Now, you can seal the deal by taking away Jason Johnson’s diabetes. And after that, you cold really seal the deal by giving Mike Lowell a second testicle again. You could just take it from David Ortiz. That guy’s got more balls than anyone in the league.

(Theological note: As it has been established that David Ortiz is God, would it make Mike Lowell at least a little divine if he got one of Ortiz’s testicles? Which chapter of Leviticus covers that?)

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

Monday, April 2

Thank God for Opening Day

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

Thank God for Opening Day.

Really. Thank God for Opening Day. Most years Jose is merely glad to see Opening Day; he is just happy that the winter is over and his nightly entertainment has emerged bear-like from hibernation. In those years, he is far more like the hunter on the first day of deer season than the smack addict flush with cash from a liquor store robbery and dying for a fix. He wants baseball, he craves it, but he does not need it to avoid dissent into oblivion.

But not this year. No, this year he needs the saccharine poison of baseball season to drip hurriedly into his veins. This year, it is to him what confession is to the sinner, what nitroglycerin is to the cardiac patient, what Guitar Hero is to Joel Zumaya. It is his salvation, his light.

These have been dark days in Melendezville, dark days indeed. Jose will not delve into the details of his personal life, save to say that the inadvertent destruction of family heirlooms is pretty much the least troubling thing going on in his life. Also, he got a pretty good haircut, for a change. How bad is it? Remember when the Yankees swept the Sox five straight? Well, it’s like that, except, Jose can’t turn just turn off the TV, scream “F*ck Rudy Seanez” and move on with his life. On the plus side, at least Jose’s travails do not make New Yorkers happy. Look, Jose is not saying things are “Grady Little is your manager and your starter is looking a little tired” bad, maybe more like “Jose Offerman is your second baseman and he has to field a routine grounder” bad, deeply troubling and upsetting, but probably not going to leave one catatonic.

And so we come to today, to Opening Day. And thank God. Thank God because Opening Day is hope and rebirth and life. Jose does not want to get all Curt Euro on you, he’s not even really a Christian per se, but have you ever thought about how much Opening Day, especially after a season like last year, is like Jesus? Think about it. The 2006 Red Sox season died horribly, painfully, torturously, and yet today the Red Sox will be resurrected.

“They are risen,” Red Sox fans will cry out. And regardless of the outcome, independent of what happens when Julio Lugo digs in this evening, the lone fact that the Red Sox are playing again, a short six months after their agonizing death will be nothing short of proof of God’s love. God gives us baseball, He gives us Opening Day because he loves us. It is exactly that simple. It is the same story as that of Jesus, the miracles, the lessons, the prophecy and the excruciating execution. (Note: Yes, that is a pun about bad defense and difficulties pulling off a hit and run.) The only difference is that Jesus only came back to life once, whereas the Red Sox are resurrected pretty much annually. Point Red Sox.

Okay, so maybe it’s silly and completely sacrilegious to compare Opening Day to Christ’s resurrection, every bit as silly as it is to offer the caramel coated platitudes about spring and rebirth and “Everyone’s even in the standings today.” But there is something profoundly true about it too. Because as bad as yesterday may have been, today will be, it must be, better, because today there will be baseball. Also, Jose’s going to a barbeque, which is always nice.

2. And now, a sneak peak at the back page of tomorrow’s New York post.


Kansas City, Mo—Red Sox slugger David Ortiz shocked reporters yesterday by confession to a string of killings and vowing more to come. In response to a question about what he planned to do in the coming year, the Dominican slugger respond “What I always do. Kill…”

As stunning as the admission by the seemingly genial designated hitter was, the response has been even more remarkable. Blinded by parochialism, authorities in Boston have, thus far, declined to investigate or even bring Ortiz in for questioning. The Red Sox organization has been similarly negligent, building a wall of silence around Ortiz. Even as the comments were issued, the Red Sox public relations staff seemed prepared with carefully crafted denials, suggesting that they may have known about the crimes well in advance of Ortiz’s stunning statement.

“I’m pretty sure he was talking about hitting baseballs,” stonewalled Sox general manager and unindicted coconspirator Theo Epstein. “You left out the part where he said ‘the ball.’ It was ‘kill the ball.’”

“The only thing he killed was Yankees pitching for the last four years,” added former Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar, who was not even on site or asked for comment.

Yankees President George Steinbrenner declined to join in the campaign of denial, issuing an immediate statement. “The Yankees organization, as the classiest in baseball, calls on the Red Sox to immediately suspend David Ortiz and urge him to turn himself into authorities. Felons have no place in our national pastime.”

3. As part of the full court press accompanying Opening Day, Boston Herald Business reporter Scott Van Voorhis did one of those stories that everyone loves where he asked local business leaders to offer managerial advice to sox skipper Terry Eurona.

Jose assumed that this was going to be another one of those stupid media features where they assume that just because someone has millions of dollars, has fired tens of thousands of people and has a Harvard educated hooker err... second wife, on his arm, he knows more about baseball than you or Jose. But it wasn’t about Jack Welch at all.

Instead Van Voorhis asked a variety of executives and managers, some of whom even have sporting experience, to offer advice, and you know what they said? Crack the whip, treated everyone the same, better to have nine Mosey Nixon’s than nine Manny Ramirez’s? No, they advocated for kid gloves, a consultative approach and letting the stars do what they do best.

One commentator, developer John Drew, counseled Tito to “handle them all gingerly.” Which sort of sounded, like good advice, but then Jose noticed something. John Drew? That’s remarkably close to the name of Sox outfielder David Jonathan Drew, aka DJ Dru, isn’t it? Jose senses infiltration. So basically what you have in this article, is DJ Dru, in the clever alias of real estate developer John Drew, who Jose assumes, looks just like DJ but wears glasses, advising Tito to give stars all sorts of leeway. And who is in that group of stars? None other than DJ Dru himself.

What’s next? Will Sloan School of Management Professor Manuel R. Amirez appear in the paper advising Eurona to “let players knock off a few days before the All-Star Break, It’s just good business?” Perhaps Green Monster Games President and Founder Curt Euro will counsel Tito to “Let your number one starter stay in until he thinks it’s time to come out?” Maybe CEO of ACME Inc. Wile. E. Mopena, will suggest a new model of exploding bat. (Note: Yes, Jose knows everyone has done Wile E. Coyote jokes for Wily Mo.)
Professor Manuel R. Amirez responds to
charges that his Keynesian beliefs are outdated.

Let’s get serious here. If you want to take a business perspective, don’t ask these squishy soft “modern” business types with their six sigma and their lean manufacturing and their bathroom breaks. No, let’s ask someone who knows how to get the most out of their workers like Henry Clay Frick or Kathie Lee Gifford. What players today need is lower pay, fewer benefits and more hours at the office. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always a skilled 8 year-old who will do the job for half as much.

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