With the Nats bludgeoning the Orioles this week in Charm City, the DC Optimist sought perspective from a passionnate, historically in-tune, and violently brilliant writer for this 95-north-based battle; a writer that both understands the local scene, and can provide awesome descriptions of bludgeoning. Who better than crime novellist-slash-television and film producer George P. Pelecanos, the District's most knowledgeable and consistent voice of the streets. Pelecanos's crime novels have exposed a side of DC's underbelly that is rarely looked at by Barbara Harrison, and when he isn't sending Private Investigator Derek Strange off to shove knives in racist drug runners' necks, he is penning some of the best episodes of the best television show ever based in Baltimore, The Wire. His recount of Felipe Lopez's brilliance last night in the 11th inning is below:
Felipe got back into the batter's box for what seemed like the thousanth time. In his last five trips to that proverbial dish, lined with white chalk that resembled only the finest in Colombian uncut, he flailed. He couldn't figure out how this game eluded him. Like a white Republican attempting a coup on the Mayor's office, his output had been almost laughable. Maybe he needed a bump of that China White to speed up his 47-ounce Louisville. Something had to force the shank of bad luck from his gut that was shoved there sometime in early May, when he was shifted to a new field post for the second time to again appease this frantically-run operation.
He thought about getting the call from Wayne Krivsky last season, how he was being sent to this newfangled operation sprouting up in the nation's capitol, stolen from Canada to appease the heavy-dollared residents of the neighboring suburbs, people who rushed through RFK's neighborhood as fast as possible on their way back to rolling green lawns and prominent Starbucks shops. Was he a second-rate shortstop, one that could stroke bombs over those short walls in the subtly-named Great American Ballpark, but was a bit more of a headache than a prodigy? He was dealt for a crusty old short named Royce Clayton, whose uniform collection seemed to house every team in the league. Was he no better than Clayton?
He tried in vain to stave this negativity, switching his batting entrance music at RFK to Ice Cube's "Today Was A Good Day," the 1994 Isley Brothers-sampling hit that described a perfect day in O'Shea Jackson's South Central nightmare. "No barkin' from the dog/No smog/and momma cooked the breakfast with no hog," he silently mimed to himself as he stepped to the plate for another fruitless at-bat back in DC. No song was going to bust him out of this slump, no matter how positive it was.
His eyes would glaze over as he sat through another pep-talk from that spritely new manager, Manny Acta, an upstanding guy he knew from his minor league stints, a guy he would always silently respect, but also a guy who seemed blind to the stark realities of failure. Felipe felt like he was living those realities, and that motivational benching Acta handed out to him last week hurt. He felt like one of those bratty kids from Vienna, whose cushy-government-employed mother would try to use taking the Escalade keys away as motivation to force that brat to work towards getting into his father's alma mater.
Maybe he was thinking too much during these tough times. He looked towards Baltimore's embattled closer Chris Ray, probably one of those Escalade kids he was just thinking about earlier, although with Ray's, and the entire Baltimore bullpen's recent struggles, taking away car keys would never be enough. Felipe looked at third, where that ebuillent journeyman Robert Fick, with his shock of red facial hair bursting from his face like bad acne began to stretch out a lead. Fick was always good for a laugh in the dugout, usually at the expense of the other journeyman bencher Tony Batista, him with that weird batting stance looked like a swooping crane. Maybe he ought to consult Tony about breaking out of this?
On second was newly acquired center fielder Ryan Langerhans, probably coming off of one of the worst batting droughts he had ever seen. Felipe knew that he shared an unsaid bond with Langerhans, whose strange arrival in the midst of a sub .150 batting swoon, suddenly energized the Nats.
On first was Christian Guzman, who spent all of his first year in DC in a slump, re-writing the books on ineptitude and free agent misery. Guzman's recent resurgence came at the expense of Felipe's natural position at shortstop. Sure he agreed to move to second base this season — he never thought his status as a player ever commanded any sort of reason to complain. He just wanted stability, consistency, and faith. The Nats sure did show faith in Guzman and the recent returns looked like they were clairvoyant in their assessment. Guzman was gutty, could leg out a triple and slapped balls all over cavernous RFK after he spent all of last year rehabbing a torn labrum. Felipe saw in Guzman the redemption of faith. Maybe now, in the 11th inning of this brewing local rivalry, fueled by a story-hungry sports media and bickering old billionares, he would have his redemption.
Felipe watched as Ray's second heave flew past his shins. Bill Miller, a showy old curmugeon, like all bastard umps, called strike. This was the last straw for Felipe. The struggles were taking their toll, he was thinking about snorting the batter's box for Christ's sake. He thought about his wife, he very own J-Lo, and how if he blew another opportunity like this he wouldn't be able to fund her charity work. She was good to him and had great hips. How could this fat slug, obviously tiring from 11 innings stacked on top of a rain delay ruin both his and his beautiful wife's ambitions.
Felipe stepped to Miller. It was like his mouth was possessed by foulness. The curses were going to fly out. There's no way that pitch was a strike, he enunciated in so many four letter words. Felipe then felt a sudden blast across his chest. He felt the modest goatee scrape across his cheek, and he could smell the faintly foul breath he felt during what seemed like an endless pep talk last week. It was Acta, smashing Felipe from the batter's box, away from the rising temper of Miller. "Another pep talk," groaned Felipe to himself. Acta briefly muttered a mangled combination of English, Spanish, and curse words. Maybe it wasn't so much a pep talk as it was a slap back into reality. Acta has wiped Felipe's slate clean.
After a few easy practice swings, Felipe returned to that drug-addled box, looked again at the fraying Ray and waited for another pitch. Felipe roped the slider over the first base line, causing the corpulent attention-whore Kevin Millar to dive frantically. Felipe ran, he knew he was fast, but after this hit, it was like spirits had arisen in his #2 jersey. He circled second to the sound of dissapointment from Dundalk's finest. It was like music to his ears. Redemption felt good, it sounded good, it reminded him of a line from a song he tried in vain to embrace earlier in the year. "Today I didn't even have to use my A.K." The bases would clear and so would his conscience.
*may not actually be written by George P. Pelecanos