(Picture Courtesy of the Eagle Tribune)
After Joe Kelly’s Opening Day meltdown, I called him a nightmare dressed like a daydream. From the start of his career, he had talent that dazzled his coaches, first in St. Louis, then in Boston, but he could never translate that ability into results. On one cold Boston night, Kelly managed to turn six years of disappointment into success as he became one of Boston’s most popular players to complete an epic face turn.
All Red Sox fans remember what happened on the night of April 12. Yankee weenie Luke Warm Tyler Austin slid into Brock Holt with spikes high cutting Holt’s calf (Luke Warm 3:16 Means I Just Scraped Your Calf). Like the annoying kid who weasels his way into your sandlot games and insists he never does anything wrong, Austin claimed he did not spike Holt. Later in the game, he took a Kelly fastball in the ribs. He didn’t charge the mound. He slammed his bat on the plate like a spoiled child and glared at Kelly.
Thus began the reliever’s face turn. Kelly walked towards home plate, gestured at Austin, and appeared to say “come on.” At this point, Austin had no choice but to charge the mound. It was like on “The Wire,” when Omar put Marlo’s name on the street. Chris didn’t tell Marlo about Omar’s challenge, and when the drug dealer found out, he chastised his hit man. “My name is my name!” Marlo yelled, and “come on” is “come on.” Luke Warm charged Kelly, who sidestepped the cumbersome beast. The unbroken momentum took Luke Warm to the grass, where the much smaller Kelly began to wail on him until the swarm of player’s separated them.
By all rights, Kelly should have ended up on his back looking up at Christian Vasquez and saying “Stay Gold, Pony Boy,” before he expired. Instead Luke Warm had a bruise on his face, Kelly a ripped shirt. Quite a sequences of events for a player who two years ago was pitching in Pawtucket, and seemed destined to be a disappointing footnote in Red Sox history was now a folk hero. Vince McMahon could not have written it better.
Many Red Sox players have become fan favorites on the strength of a single play. Jose Tartabull throwing Ken Berry out at home, Bill Mueller going deep on Mariano Rivera, Pokey Reese lunging into the stands at Yankee Stadium, Fred Lynn’s diving catch in Shea Stadium to save a 1-0 Sox victory over the Yanks, Bernie Carbo’s game six homerun, and Dave Roberts stealing second base.
Shortly after the skirmish, “Joe Kelly Fight Club” shirts appeared. The crowd popped for him when he charged out of the bullpen, he spent part of his suspension watching the Sox play from the (relatively) cheap seats. Joe Kelly pariah quickly became Joe Kelly folk hero.
Most importantly, a different Joe Kelly came charging out of the bullpen. On Saturday night Kelly K’d two consecutive Rangers with the bases stacked in the eighth inning. Pre face change Joe Kelly does not strike out those Rangers. He walks one of them or gives up a bloop hit. But somehow, in the midst of the scrum with Luke Warm, Kelly’s talents gelled with his performance, which have stabilized a shaky bullpen, which needs to be rock solid as they battle the Yankees this week in the Bronx.
If we can get Matt Barnes to plunk, challenge and fight Austin, we might be getting somewhere.
ICYMI: EPISODE 43 OF THE AVIDBOSTON PODCAST!!!
RED SOX VS. YANKEES PREVIEW!!! MY CONTINUED RANT WITH MOOKIE LEADING OFF!!! IS THE PRICE CONTRACT WORSE THAN SANDOVALS?
Also available on iTunes!