Inside a winning clubhouse

Beanballs,Sports,Brian McNally

Inside a baseball clubhouse after a team wins a division title – or, later on, a division series, a league championship and especially a World Series – you’re never quite sure what exactly you just saw. It’s like trying to remember what happened at a college frat party the day after a night of excessive drinking and all that comes to mind are surreal scenes that have no real connection to each other.

Did injured Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos really end up in a laundry cart? Was one of the players’ 10-year-old sons, in full uniform, spraying cranberry juice on everyone in sight? And was he carrying around an empty bottle of non-alcoholic sparkling cider? Did relief pitcher Sean Burnett get attacked by multiple teammates with talcum powder and walk around the clubhouse looking like a ghost? Was that general manager Mike Rizzo in the middle of a mosh pit as the music blared and players doused each other with champagne and beer?

It all happened – I think. And no doubt the party carried on long into the night. The Nationals had earned that moment even after losing 2-0 to the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday night. But that result was rendered meaningless when the second-place Atlanta Braves also lost their game in Pittsburgh, 2-1. That final came in just as the top of the ninth inning ended at Nationals Park and the crowd erupted. With a 96-64 record the Nats were National League East champions.

“You can’t even imagine it, to be honest with you,” reliever Drew Storen said. “As much as you want to dream and see it on TV there’s nothing like being soaked and freezing and smelling like beer and champagne. There’s no better feeling in the world.”

“It was crazy. There was stuff flying everywhere. I got a little cut on my forehead,” pitcher Jordan Zimmermann said. “Think I’ll be all right. Everyone was spraying champagne everywhere, beer everywhere. It was pretty crazy in there.”

The players wanted to share it with as many people as possible. Pitcher Gio Gonzalez tried to bring 87-year-old owner Ted Lerner over to a group of joyous players after everyone migrated outside to the playing field to bask in the cheers of a few thousand remaining fans. Lerner didn’t get to his station in life by being a fool, however. He went half way – close enough to feel part of the celebration – and then begged off, content to watch from that distance.

“Yeah, we lost today, but in a way, we’re still celebrating,” said Gonzalez, whose own family was getting showered by beverages inside the winning clubhouse. “That’s the beauty part. We’re happy, the music’s blaring, the fans are still out here. This is definitely one for the books, boys.”

In the middle of it all was owner Mark Lerner, Ted’s son, who learned the final score in Pittsburgh while sitting in the front row just to the right of home plate. He won’t ever sit in a suite high up top. It’s too far from the action. Someone in the row behind announced it was over and the Braves had lost and that set off a round of hugs and handshakes.

Back into the clubhouse and everyone was in on the action again. Bat boys ended up with cardboard boxes on their heads, more bottles of champagne and beer appeared out of nowhere and the music thumped even louder. Burnett fell on the floor at one point and dissolved into peals of laughter. Reporters made easy targets – even if they were essentially wearing rain gear. Catcher Kurt Suzuki was being given a piggy back ride by one of his coaches and smiling ear-to-ear. Pitcher Stephen Strasburg was seen dancing to the music as relaxed and happy as we’ve ever seen him.

Earlier, manager Davey Johnson strolled through to take in the scene and was back in the room not 10 seconds before first baseman Adam LaRoche dumped a bottle of champagne on his head. At least he followed it with a hug. The Nats were also thankful they had clubhouse party veteran Jayson Werth to show the way for this relatively inexperienced team. At one point he actually couldn’t remember how many division titles he’s celebrated, though eventually stuck with the number six. Werth made sure his teammates had goggles at the ready to protect their eyes from the sting of spraying alcohol.

So has anyone ever celebrated so much after a loss: “Never like this,” Jordan Zimmermann cracked. “Nothing of this magnitude, that’s for sure. I think winning the Division III World Series [at Wisconsin-Stevens Point) was nice. But nothing’s even close to this right now.”

Follow me on Twitter @bmcnally14

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