The bottles were popping and the champagne flowing as mayhem erupted in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse in the aftermath of their beatdown of Boston on Friday night at the Rogers Centre.
Team Canada defeated Team Finland 3-2 in overtime Saturday to win the rescheduled World Junior Hockey Championship.
The atmosphere inside Rogers Place in Edmonton finally reached a level organizers had wished for as more than 13,000 (mostly Canadian) fans witnessed an exciting gold-medal game that ended the event on a high note.
Here are some observations from the tournament:
Mason McTavish was a force the entire tournament. The captain for Team Canada led the event in scoring (8G-9A-7GP), was used in all situations, brought a combination of power and finesses to the dance, showed off a back door one-timer on the power play and … showed off his hand/eye coordination when he knocked down a chipped puck by Finland that was destined for the open net in overtime. The ”save” is arguably one of the most remarkable highlights in the history of this event. McTavish is destined for full-time duty in Anaheim this fall. He’s NHL ready.
The Buffalo Sabres have to be pleased with the play of their first-round pick, Jiri Kulich. Kulich was the MVP at the U18 World Championship in Germany in the spring and carried his momentum into this event. He contributed two goals and six assists in Edmonton, with his three-point effort in eliminating Team USA standing out. Kulich is showing he is more than just a shooter. He pursued the play with more tenacity and worked much more consistently in all three zones. He’s definitely trending up for the Sabres.
Future No. 1 for the Wild
The Minnesota Wild have an outstanding goalie prospect in their pipeline. Their first-round pick in 2021 (20th overall) Jesper Wallstedt, from Sweden, has the potential to be an elite No. 1 NHL goalie. He was the MVG in the tournament. He posted a goals-against average of 1.62 and save percentage of .940. Wallstedt is 6-foot-3, 214 pounds. He takes up a ton of net but he’s also plenty athletic. He tracks laterally very well and rarely gets outside his posts. Team Sweden lacked offensive punch at this event. Otherwise they might have had a chance to play for gold. Their bronze medal was won on the back of Wallstedt.
Ridly Greig, Canada (Ottawa Senators, 28th overall, 2020)
WJC Stats: 5GP – 3G-3A-6PTS
There is always risk in loaning top prospects to events like the World Juniors. In the case of Ridly Greig, the Ottawa Senators must be excited about his tournament. He played with his usual grease and determination AND contributed offence. However, Greig suffered what appears to be a should injury and missed the back end of the tournament. Let’s hope it’s nothing serious. He looks like a prospect who is on the verge of opening eyes at NHL camp.
Logan Stankoven, Canada (Dallas Stars, 47th overall, 2021)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 4G-6A-10PTS
I couldn’t help but notice Stankoven every time he hit the ice. He’s an electric, highly skilled, uber competitive forward who is very difficult to defend. Logan has the ability and ice awareness to exploit seams and get pucks to the net quickly in traffic. I’m not the least bit concerned about his size (5-foo-8, 170 pounds). In my opinion, he has the potential to bring a bit of Johnny Gaudreau and Brayden Point to the Dallas Stars organization.
Olen Zellweger, Canada (Anaheim Ducks, 34th overall, 2021)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 2G-9A-11PTS
Time will tell, but Zellweger looks like a player who should have been selected higher than he was in 2021. I had undervalued him in the past. His element is clearly his mobility and vision in the offensive zone. Zellweger sees the ice. He makes plays. I was more concerned about his play off the puck and in the defensive zone. He’s not big (5-foot-9, 175 pounds) but he’s quick to take away space and out-think opponents in the defensive zone. He’s a transitional defender that has the potential to run an NHL power play in the future as more of a distributor than a shooter.
Joshua Roy, Canada (Montreal Canadiens, 150th overall, 2021)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 3G-5A-8PTS
Every player has his own development path. It takes some longer than others to reach their pro potential. Roy scored 51 goals and had 68 assists for 119 points for Sherbrooke in the QMJHL last season. His offence has gone to another level. What impressed me most at this event was his “hard area” game. As the first forward on the scene he did a nice job of bumping opponents off the puck along the boards. He also showed more willingness to get to the crease and look for tips and second chances. He will never be described as a power forward but the Canadiens have to be excited about the potential Roy displayed.
Jan Mysak, Czechia (Montreal Canadiens, 48th overall, 2020)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 5G-4A-9PTS
Mysak was voted an All-Star at this event and certainly earned the recognition. When he first arrived in North America, I saw a player that was more of an opportunist than a play driver. His stats at the OHL level playing for Hamilton last season (61 GP – 34G-30A-64PTS) are those of a goal-scorer more than a playmaker. He showed more willingness to get his nose dirty in Edmonton and seemed to be involved from shift to shift. If his detail and drive continue to trend positively he has a chance, in time, to provide the Habs with some secondary NHL scoring.
Emil Andrae, Sweden (Philadelphia Flyers, 54th overall, 2020)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 4G-4A-8PTS
Andrae was the Captain for Sweden. He displayed the highest level of compete and overall involvement that I have witnessed from him over several years of viewings. In the past he took risks offensively but didn’t play with enough detail in all three zones. He’s a transitional defender that has matured. Andrae still contributes offensively. He’s mostly a distributor on the power play but he did get more pucks to the net at this tournament and actually scored from range through traffic. His tenacity down low in his zone didn’t go unnoticed. If he ends up being an average NHL defender for the Flyers, the rest of his game brings more value.
Simon Edvinsson, Sweden (Detroit Red Wings, sixth overall, 2021)
WJC Stats: 6GP-1G-1A-2PTS
Edvinsson is a hulking 6-foot-6, 207-pound defender. He projects to be a two-way “D” at the NHL level. He skates very well for his stature and can lead the rush on occasion. He sees his options and makes sound puck plays. I thought he could have been used more at this tournament. This kid is going to have a long career in Detroit. He compliments a partner who is more of a risk taker. There’s also some growl to his game. He takes away space effectively and gaps up physically.
Matthew Knies, USA (Toronto Maple Leafs, 57th overall, 2021)
WJC Stats: 5GP – 0G-3A-3PTS
I’m on record describing Knies as exactly the kind of player the Maple Leafs need in their lineup. His power game is an important element. He has the ability to disrupt opponents along the wall in their zone and he’s a load to handle around the crease. Having said that, I felt his tournament was average plus by his standard. He did extend some plays and station himself around the crease on the power play, but overall he struggled to get quality looks and get enough pucks to the net.
Joel Maata, Finland (Edmonton Oilers, 222nd overall, 2022)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 3G-1A-4PTS
Sometimes at these events a player catches my eye and elevates his play compared to past viewings. Maata was one of those players. He’s a big-body forward who plays a power style game, but doesn’t have a history of producing much offensively. He plays for NCAA Vermont in Hockey East and had only three goals and three assists last season. In this tournament he was consistently involved and played a power game. His skating and agility are not NHL standard at this stage, but he has time. At best he is likely a depth pro who might wear down opponents but gets credit for the way he played in Edmonton.
Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Sweden (Vancouver Canucks, 15th overall, 2022)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 0G-3A-3PTS
The journey to the NHL will be interesting to watch for Lekkerimaki. At the U18 Worlds in the spring he scored five goals in five games. He was a bit of an opportunist on the power play but there was no denying he has an elite release and nose for the net. At this tournament, Sweden needed more from him — and he didn’t produce. The team looked like they lost trust in his game. His three-zone effort and detail needs to improve significantly. He’s a goal-scorer with some cheat in his game. This wasn’t his best tournament. I expect he will be much improved when we see him next in Halifax and Moncton in December.
Brad Lambert, Finland (Winnipeg Jets, 30th overall, 2022)
WJC Stats: 5Gp – 1G-0A-1PT
Lambert’s goal vs Latvia early in the tournament came on the power play. Not only did he not score again, he ended up in the press box for the last two games Finland played. The player needs a reset. He needs to regain his confidence. This event did nothing to help with his process. It sounds like Lambert is heading to Seattle of the WHL. The Thunderbirds have a solid team returning in 2022-2023. The opportunity to play an important role in Seattle provides a chance for Lambert to re-establish his game and find his element, offensively.
Topi Niemela, Finland (Toronto Maple Leafs, 64th overall, 2020)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 0G-6A-6PTS
Niemela was nothing short of a work horse for the Finns. He was used in all situations. On the power play he distributed very well. His ability to see the ice and make seam plays speaks to his hockey IQ and vision. Defensively he battled and came up with some key shot-blocks along the way. In the Finns’ 1-0 win versus Sweden in the semi-finals, Niemela blocked a shot in the dying seconds to preserve the victory. It should be noted that it has taken time for his offence to arrive. Several years back he looked like an undersized defender who was satisfied with getting to pucks first and moving them up ice without taking any risk. Fast forward to today and Niemela looks capable of taking up a spot on one of the power- play units for the Leafs, given time.
Roby Jarventie, Finland (Ottawa Senators, 33rd overall, 2020)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 4G-5A-9PTS
The Senators pipeline is flush with several talented players who are tracking positively and Jarventie is definitely one of those prospects. There was a time he relied only on his skill and ability to create off the rush. His overall game has improved without taking away from his offence. Jarventie will never been described as a “match up” or “shut down” forward but he is showing he is willing to make the effort required in all three zones. At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, he also brings size with his skill.
Joakim Kemell, Finland (Nashville Predators, 17th overall, 2022)
WJC Stats: 7GP-4G-8A-12PTS
Kemell was voted to the tournament All-Star team. Like Jiri Kulich from Czechia, he carried over his play from the U18 Worlds in May. Kemell played with his usual enthusiasm and showed off his lethal one-timer from his weak side on the power play. I especially appreciated his willingness to work in the trenches and track back more responsibly. The Preds have a solid prospect on there hands in Kemell.
Connor Bedard, Canada (Regina Pats WHL – 2023 Draft Eligible)
WJC Stats: 7GP – 4G-4A-8PTS
Bedard’s journey towards being the potential No. 1 pick in Nashville next June began nicely at this tournament. The World Juniors is not an easy event for young players like Bedard to play to their identity. There were times he tried to do too much and exposed some pucks in the middle of the ice. He also lost his man in coverage on occasion in the defensive zone. Overall, however, there is no denying his impact offensively. He wasn’t the most dynamic player on Team Canada but he did see time on the power play and showed off his deceptive release. Averaging over a PPG at this event is a nice way to start the year.
The Oilers were firing on most of their cylinders Friday. But they weren’t always sure which one was firing when, and where.
“I was trying to out of the way,” pleaded Kane, “but those type of things happened. First pre-season game — I guess that’s to be expected.”
McDavid was slow to get up, but never missed a shift. He was flying as usual, but like the rest of his teammates his rushes ended a few feet before the goal line, with more red faces than red goal lights.
“That’s probably a good sign. You want to save a couple for the regular season,” laughed Kane. “So as long as you get your chances and you’re playing in the O-zone — our line alone probably had six or seven Grade A’s.”
With a vastly superior lineup dressed, Edmonton dominated as you’d expect. The high danger scoring chances were listed as 13-4 on naturalstattrick.com.
On a night where only one forward — Luke Esposito — registered an even-strength point, defenceman Brett Kulak delivered the winner on an innocent looking point blast with 11 minutes left to play. Kailer Yamamoto set Leon Draisaitl up for Edmonton’s other goal, a shorty.
They came to see a blowout, but “first star” Dan Vladar had other ideas, thwarting an Oilers attack that had some polish, but zero finish.
“I thought we hung in there,” said Flames head coach Darryl Sutter. “We left our top three centres at home. That was a big difference.”
Edmonton dressed all of its top nine forwards, six of its top seven defencemen (minus Tyson Barrie), and started No. 1 Jack Campbell. That was the good news.
The bad news, for most of those players, was this game marked their first pre-season minutes. And the rust showed.
Edmonton’s power play was close-but-no-cigar all night, making all kinds of plays but not finishing any of them. And at regular strength, it was much of the same: Plenty of shots on goal (38), but not much finish.
“Tip your hat to the goaltender,” Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft said. “We had numerous good looks (on the PP). Didn’t go in.
“We zipped it around. It was exactly what we wanted it to be, except we didn’t get the (finish).”
Credit Vladar with much of that. He was the difference between a close game and a blowout, leaving the Flames in great shape in their crease, with starter Jacob Markstrom at home. They have a solid backup in Vladar, and the promising Dustin Wolf slated to be the No. 1 for the new AHL Calgary Wranglers.
Darnell Nurse fought twice with one Mitch McLain, after McLain laid a hard hit on Kane in the third period. Not exactly a risk you love for your top defenceman, but part of the package with Nurse, who tends to fight only when taking care of business for a teammate.
“I mean, the first time was awesome. Really appreciate that,” Kane said. “The second time was a surprise because I was ready to go. So I think we’re all looking at each other what was going on there.”
In a league where some teams play six pre-season games, while others play eight, we often wonder how many games are truly required?
In Canada, teams like four home dates, and Friday night in Edmonton was an example of why. Rogers Place was virtually sold out, and with 18,000-plus people eating, drinking and having a good time, that kind of revenue surpasses any three regular-season home dates in Florida or San Jose
But outside of revenues — and yes, we know, it’s all about Hockey Related Revenue in the NHL — do we really need an eight-game pre-season schedule?
“I mean, I think it’s probably a little much,” admitted Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “We played nine games in the past. It’s a lot of games.”
How many does Nugent-Hopkins require?
“Three to five, depending on how you feel,” he said. “You don’t want to come into the season unsure of how your game is, or unsure of how you’re feeling. But you also don’t want to come in fatigued or feeling tired. You want to be ready to go.”
McDavid says he requires three games, maybe four — depending on how he feels after the third one.
“I would tend to think that eight is too many. But, understanding that it’s a chance for lots of different guys to get looks,” opined McDavid. “I’ve had five years where you play four or five, I’ve had years where, you know, you don’t get any. You know, it’s kind of you kind of gotta be ready no matter what happens.”
The bottles were popping and the champagne flowing as mayhem erupted in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse in the aftermath of their beatdown of Boston on Friday night at the Rogers Centre.
It was the same Red Sox team that helped the Jays officially clinch a post-season berth by beating the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday, an off-day for Toronto.
The Blue Jays promised to throw themselves a bash and they did.
For the record, the Jays showed no mercy in handing the Red Sox a 9-0 loss Friday night, the first of a three-game series that will wrap up their final home stand before the post-season begins.
When the assembled media was allowed access to the jubilant clubhouse, the strains of Lil’ Wayne were being belted out. On the field, the Jays belted three home runs in support of Alek Manoah, who didn’t need much help on this night.
After the initial celebration in the clubhouse, the players gathered on the field for group pictures, to soak in the moment and swill more of the bubbly.
Given the recent history of the team and its itinerant existence during the onslaught of COVID, the scene was expected and justified. The Jays needed to exhale and they left no bottle unopened.
The Jays, however, still have games to be played — two more against the Bosox, then three in Baltimore — which will determine where they begin their wild-card series.
For fans of the team, they may have seen the last of Manoah, for the time being anyway.
What has been made abundantly clear is that the big right-hander must be on the mound when the playoffs begin. However, Manoah is lined up to pitch in the season’s final game — with the operative word being ‘needed.’ If Wednesday’s finale in Baltimore carries any home-field repercussions, turning to Manoah is a no-brainer.
The hope, however, is that home field will already be clinched with Manoah being a tabbed to start baseball’s second season. Heading into Saturday’s action, the Jays lead the Seattle Mariners by a game and a half, and the Tampa Bay Rays by two in the chase for wild-card seeding. The top WC team gets home field for the entire best-of-three series.
Manoah was marvelous Friday night against the Red Sox. He didn’t exactly steal the show, but he did show why he’s the ace of Toronto’s staff.
In the sixth, leadoff hitter Jarren Duran hit a broken-bat single to centre. Manoah then got Rafael Devers to ground into a double play and ended the inning ended with a meekly hit ground out by Xander Bogaerts.
Turns out it was the end of the line for Manoah, who was met with well-deserved congratulatory handshakes in the dugout.
Boston didn’t get its first base-runner in scoring position until in the top half of the fourth inning, when Devers and advanced to second on a wild pitch. But he would be left stranded after J.D. Martinez grounded out to second to end the inning.
With out in the fifth, Manoah induced a grounder behind first base to Abraham Almonte but was slow coming off the mound and wasn’t able to even take the throw. Almonte easily reached base as Boston recorded its first hit off Manoah.
VLAD THE IMPALER
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. belted one of his patented no-doubters in the third inning, a two-run blast that gave the home side a 4-0 lead.
For Vlad, it was his 31st long ball of the season to drive in his 94th and 95th runs of the season.
While he’s nowhere near last year’s 48-homer campaign, a hot-hitting Guerrero heading into the playoffs will go a long way in determining how deep Toronto can make a run.
Friday’s bomb was his first homer since Sept. 21 when the Jays were in Philly.
He ended the month of September with just four homers.
George Springer didn’t waste much time in getting on base. On the first pitch he saw from Boston starter Nick Pivetta, Toronto’s leadoff hitter hit a shot to centre for a single.
Up stepped Bo Bichette. On the second pitch Bichette saw, he stroked a single to left.
Springer and Bichette both advanced on a passed ball.
Springer would come around to score the game’s first run on a groundout by
Alejandro Kirk, who batted cleanup.
In the eighth inning, Bichette knocked in his 47th run of September to tie Tony Fernandez and Lloyd Moseby for the most in any calendar month in franchise history.
TO CELEBRATE IS GREAT
The Jays took to the field knowing they had already clinched a berth in the post-season when Boston defeated Baltimore on Thursday night.
The plan, according to interim manager John Schneider, was for the team to celebrate its accomplishment regardless of Friday night’s outcome.
“I think whenever you have a chance to do that you have to embrace it,” said Schneider prior to opening pitch. ”That doesn’t happen all the time and I can’t wait to have a good time with that group.”
For Bichette, who watched the Red Sox defeat the Orioles with teammate Santiago Espinal, the Jays have every right to bask in the glow of a playoff appearance.
“All the hard work paid off,’’ he said. “We put a lot in and we had high expectations of ourselves and we were able to accomplish it.
“There’s still more work to do, obviously, and we expect more but we definitely need to enjoy this.”
As part of the team’s recognition and acknowledgments to honour the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a moment of silence was held.
The Survivors’ Flag was featured throughout Rogers Centre to honour survivors and all the lives impacted by the residential school system.
The anthem was performed in Blackfoot, English and French.
Kirk was behind the plate in the series opener serving as Manoah’s unofficial personal catcher.
In fact, only once hasn’t Kirk been Manoah’s battery-mate this season when the big right-hander was on the mound.
The pitcher-catcher combo seems to be working and there appears to be no discernible reason why the Blue Jays would deviate from this pattern once the post-season begins.
Danny Jansen, Toronto’s other catcher, was also in the lineup in the rare role as DH, batting eighth in the order.
TORONTO – Hey, Toronto Blue Jays, please complete the following sentence – clinching a post-season berth on an off-day is …
“… weird, but awesome,” said George Springer. “I mean, it just allows you to breathe a little bit, you know, allows you to say, well, we accomplished our goal. Yeah, obviously you might want to do it in a little bit of a different way, but at the end of the day, who cares? It’s awesome to say we’re going to the playoffs no matter what.”
“… well, clinching is great, but I would say not ideal,” said Bo Bichette. “It definitely felt weird not being with the team and not celebrating after the game. I mean, that’s part of it. When you’re young and you’re watching the people we watched, you’ve got the champagne showers and everything. We’ll get that opportunity (Friday). So, blessed either way.”
“… it didn’t happen because technically, we didn’t celebrate,” said Matt Chapman. “We’re celebrating (Friday). So clinching on an off day is not ideal, but manageable because we’re going to clinch (Friday).”
“… weird,” said Kevin Gausman. “In the moment, I really wished that we all would have been here and been able to watch it together. But either scenario would have been weird. If we would have came in, what if (the Baltimore Orioles) come back and win and then we all came in for no reason? So we just decided to wait until Friday.”
“… strange,” said Danny Jansen. “Kind of unfortunate, too. But we’re here now. It was a weird thing, for sure. It’s the first time in Blue Jays history. Probably doesn’t happen very often. It was a weird feeling for sure on the off-day.”
“… cool but a little weird, you know?” said Jordan Romano. “It’s definitely still special but I think it would’ve been a little better if all the boys were around and we were kind of in the moment. Still really cool. We’re all grateful for it. But yeah, a little different.”
“… odd,” said Tim Mayza. “Not your typical (way to) a post-season berth. It’s different, but so were the last two, three years of Blue Jays baseball. You go back to the ’20 clinching and the guys who were there said it was weird. You had an empty stadium in Buffalo. And even last year, we didn’t get back here until August. Then you make a run at the end and you fall just one game short. So I would say for the past few years of Blue Jays baseball, maybe this is typical, that it would happen on and off-day. But it’s fun. It’s exciting.”
“… still clinching,” said David Phelps. “The most important thing isn’t the champagne celebration, the most important thing is that we’re headed to the playoffs. Yeah, obviously we would have loved it after a win and been together for it. But our goal is to get to the post-season and win the World Series and that’s stop one.”
“… easy – we didn’t play,” said interim manager John Schneider. “It was a little weird. You become a Boston Red Sox fan for about three hours and then you turn it off. But we knew that was a possibility and covered all of our bases, but definitely different. But no matter how you do it, doing it is the most important part.”
There was no debating that on one of the more unique Friday’s in franchise history, as the Blue Jays returned to Rogers Centre with an ‘X’ by their name in the wild-card standings courtesy of an Orioles loss at Boston the previous afternoon, planned a post-game party, pounded the Red Sox 9-0 behind six shutout innings from Alek Manoah and then let it rip.
“I woke up and I was ready to go,” said Gausman. “My mind was on my bullpen, but my bullpen’s over so now all I’m focused on is watching Manoah shove and then go pop some bottles. That’s all I’m thinking about.”
In the aftermath, asked about his first champagne shake-and-spray, Manoah grinned.
“That was sick.”
Manoah allowed only two hits and was in total control, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. rocked his team-leading 31st homer of the season and Springer added a three-run shot to ensure the Blue Jays jumped into the party in style.
Raimel Tapia also went deep and Bichette added two singles, giving him a club record for hits in a month at 48, before a Rogers Centre crowd of 37,283 that enjoyed stress-free festivities. Yusei Kikuchi picked up from Manoah and closed things out for a three-inning save, his first in the majors and second of his career after collecting with the Seibu Lions in 2012.
“This party was scheduled and whether we won or lost. For me, it was let’s have a good time, but with a win, you know?” said Manoah. “I feel like it would have been really terrible to get our butt kicked out there and then have to come and party. The biggest thing was being able to just lock it in and make sure that the win comes first and then the party comes after.”
Work still remains for the Blue Jays (88-69) over the final week, starting with locking down the top wild-card spot, which they lead by 1.5 games over the Seattle Mariners (86-70), who beat Oakland 2-1 to clinch their first post-season berth since 2001, and two games over the Tampa Bay Rays (86-71), who also clinched with a 7-3 win at Houston.
In case it matters, Manoah is lined up to pitch Wednesday’s season finale at Baltimore, but the Blue Jays want to have the top spot secured by then and not have to contemplate whether to start their ace in order to host the wild-card round.
Hard to imagine them making that choice and while Schneider didn’t quite commit to saving Manoah for the wild-card round, saying “a lot can happen between now and then,” he later added, “if he’s on the mound in Game 1, that would be a really good thing for us.”
Manoah has now logged 196.2 innings over 31 starts with a 2.24 ERA, becoming one of the club’s most reliable arms. His 0.88 ERA in September is a franchise record. The Blue Jays are 18-13 when he starts.
Similarly important is figuring out if Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who did some running Friday as he works his way back from a left hamstring strain, and Santiago Espinal, who ramped up his baseball activities as he recovers from a left oblique strain, will be ready for the wild-card opener Oct. 7.
Their status will significantly impact how the post-season roster is constructed, while decisions on how to line up the rotation and how many relievers to carry also must be settled.
Five games remain to sort out those matters, which they can do knowing the heavy lifting is done and the achievement has been properly feted, the way it was in a pretty wild clubhouse.
The first bottles of champagne were uncorked as Endor’s Pump It Up blared on speakers and then, when Hot by Daddy Yankee and Pitbull followed, Teoscar Hernandez climbed atop a clubhouse table and began waving a pirate flag as his teammates skipped around.
“That was something Chappie brought up for every win we get,” Hernandez explained of their post-victory routine. “He said we were pirates and we’re going to take everything from everybody. So we started doing that every time we win. I’m always with the flag on the top of the table trying to pump everyone up.”
No challenge there and next the room went silent for Schneider.
“This is something you should never not celebrate,” he told the group. “Congratulations to you all. Unbelievable effort all season long. You guys are fucking incredible. Enjoy the shit out of this tonight.”
With that, more corks went flying.
Wave after wave of players ganged up on Guerrero, dousing him as payback, Manoah said, “for all the water he throws on everyone.”
“I tried to hide and avoid everything,” Guerrero said through interpreter Hector Lebron, “but everybody was dumping everything on me. That felt good. It was very emotional and let’s keep going.”
Amid the chaos, Chapman swung by his stall to make sure his glove was safely tucked behind the plastic sheets draped over the lockers and protected from the streams of bubbly flying in all directions. It was.
The pitchers circled pitching coach Pete Walker and emptied out dozens of beer cans on him.
Schneider, asked whether more champagne was on him than in him, said on him but that the ratio was about to change.
Guerrero, Bichette and Cavan Biggio, who rose through the farm system together as the sons of elite major-leaguers, winning championships and single-A Dunedin and double-A New Hampshire along the way, traded dousing and kind words.
“It’s something that we’ve all been through together and enjoyed together,” said Biggio.
The difference between the parties then and now?
“This is way better,” said Guerrero. “In the minor leagues, they give you just one bottle of champagne and that’s it. You’re out. Here there are a lot of bottles.”
Indeed, and even after the party took a brief pause for a team photo on the mound, it quickly moved back into the clubhouse and resumed.
“I feel like we handled it the right way,” said Ross Stripling, whose emergence after Hyun Jin Ryu’s season-ending elbow surgery was pivotal for the club. “We played the game. We took care of the business at hand and then came in here to have a good time.”
Added Schneider: “This is why you play. This is a lot of fun.”
Clinched on an off-day or not.
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