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Home » June 2009 Game CommentsJune 2009 » Janken [じゃんけん]

Janken [じゃんけん]

Game 57: June 7, 2009
W: Vicente Padilla (4-3)
H: Darren O’Day (5)
S: C.J. Wilson (5)
33-23, 1 game winning streak
Red Sox3
L: Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-4)
33-24, 1 game losing streak
Highlights: After Jacoby Ellsbury left the game in the sixth inning, Rocco Baldelli and Mark Kotsay played rock-paper-scissors (RPS) to decide who would play where in the outfield (but Brad Mills had the final say). The words one chants or the symbols used in this hand game provide a lesson cultural anthropology. Janken is the Japanese word for RPS. Japanese plantation workers brought their name for the game with them to Hawai‘i, generations of kids before me added to the chant, and these words were passed on to us. “Junken a munken a saka saka po!” we would begin. If we tied, we would continue, “Wailuku, Wailuku, big fat toe!”

Growing up on the East Coast, the Red Sox Scholars have their own words for RPS, probably something like, “One, two, three, shoot!” I still am surprised by the brevity of ritual in places outside of Maui. My cousins who grew up on O‘ahu started with “jan ken po” and then “I canna show” in case of a tie. Maybe the bigger the city someone grew up in the faster they wanted to get through it given their pace of life. The game is not typically treated as game in and of itself but rather a way to figure out who goes first or resolve a tie somewhat impartially.

Jonathan Papelbon rubbed his Red Sox Scholar’s hair with the earnestness of a thousand grandmothers. His kid-praising technique is like his approach on the mound: unrelenting intensity. David Ortiz also palmed his kid’s head, his gloved hand easily covering the top of the boy’s head. The left field wall now has a logo for the scholarship program: a Red Sox cap with a red tassel.

You won’t find Daisuke Matsuzaka at the head of the class. Tony Massarotti said he has middle of the rotation stuff, but I disagree. When he pitches the way he is accustomed he is more effective, as you can see by perusing his World Baseball Classic statistics. I know that the level of competition in that tournament is not as high as the majors, but whenever Matsuzaka is on the mound he seems not only to be battling against the batters but against Jason Varitek, John Farrell, and his own nature.

When I moved to Massachusetts I adapted in some ways: I drive in a way that turns my parents’ knuckles white and I know what to expect when I order a milkshake and ask for a frappe instead. But when I get a chance I will show my continental friends RPS the way I learned it. Perhaps the Red Sox pitching coaches can learn something from the way Matsuzaka was taught to pitch.

A few incidents revolving around Kevin Youkilis reminded me of what a kid’s game baseball is. After he just missed a homer in the first Youkilis got a bit lazy taking his lead off of second. Ian Kinsler noticed and Youkilis was picked off. To his credit, the Red Sox first baseman pushed against Kinsler’s glove mightily to get his hand back on the bag, but the move was too late. The opponents jostled each others’ hands as if they were in a thumb war.

In the third Youkilis stuck his elbow out into the path of the pitch so that he could get a free base, something you might see a overmatched Little Leaguer do. It was so blatant that home plate umpire Tim Timmons ruled that it was intentional, a judgment rarely passed. So rare that Terry Francona came out to argue the call, but eventually relented. Vicente Padilla ended up walking Youkilis on the next pitch anyway, loading the bases with one out. The local nine didn’t capitalize on the situation, however: Jason Bay struck out looking and Mike Lowell grounded out to second.

Fittingly the Fenway hawk made an appearance in a game that ball hawk Jacoby Ellsbury made a spectacular play. Ellsbury misread former Red Sox farmhand David Murphy’s fly ball to center in top of the third, yielding two runs for the visitors. Boston would get a pair of runs back on Kinsler’s mishandling of Ellsbury’s batted ball in the bottom of the inning, which had the center fielder sliding head-first into the keystone sack. And the center fielder had more film for the highlight reel.

With two out in the fourth Kinsler blasted the ball towards deep center field. The missile seemed destined for the triangle for at least a triple but Ellsbury launched himself at it. Sliding across the warning track, Ellsbury cradled the ball in his glove with more tenderness than how he treated his body. The two runs and the defensive play of the game (month? season?) came at a price: Ellsbury left the game with a stiff shoulder.

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