The cubicles were covered and the players had the clubhouse to themselves for a few minutes to celebrate before the stream of media was allowed to record the Royals’ first division championship since 1985.
The champagne flowed. The Royals experienced the same bath four times in 2014.
“It never gets old, Papi,” Salvador Perez said.
Not even when champagne spray meets the eye.
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Lorenzo Cain rubbed his eyes with his hands, and that wasn’t working. He looked away from the group assembled before him, champagne spraying in every corner of the clubhouse, and tried to dry his eyes with his American League Central Division Championship T-shirt.
The shirt was soaked.
“Let’s just go ahead,” Cain said, his eyes closed. “What was the question? Oh, It feels great. My eyes are burning but it feels great.”
The music volume was turned down.
“Listen up!” Jeremy Guthrie screamed. “I’ve got something to say!
“Say it!” came the response and a Royals post victory ritual had begun.
“Today, your 1738 players of the game are … yourselves, the Royals!”
Ryan Madson pitched a strong eighth inning in the 10-4 victory over the Mariners, which along with Minnesota’s loss to Cleveland triggered the division-clinching celebration. Madson took the ball from starter Johnny Cueto and handed it to closer Wade Davis surrendering only a walk.
Madson’s role changed, as did everybody’s in the bullpen, with the news that closer Greg Holland will be out for the rest of the season with elbow problems.
Madson is one of several newcomers who have played an important role for the Royals throughout the year. Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios, Kris Medlen, Ben Zobrist, Franklin Morales and Cueto are among the new faces that formed the identity of this team.
Madson, who appeared in two World Series for the Phillies, hadn’t thrown a pitch at the major league level since 2011 when the Royals signed him in January, taking a chance on a reliever recovering from Tommy John surgery. The payoff: a 2.28 ERA in 59 1/3 innings and what figures to be a prominent role out of the pen for the playoffs.
“I’ve been around these guys all season and I feel a part of this,” Madson said. “After where I’ve been, this feels very good.”
In his broken English, Perez explained why this celebration felt the same as the four from last year, when the Royals sprayed bubbly on each other after qualifying for the playoffs, defeating the Oakland A’s in the dramatic Wild Card Game and sweeping the Los Angeles Angels in the division series and Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS.
“It feels like last year,” Perez said.
Reminded that the Royals didn’t capture the division in 2014, Perez amended his thought.
“Oh, this feels a little different, Papi,” he said.
The players laughed, sang and sought out teammates to drench. Reliever Luke Hochevar stood off to the side, drinking not the champagne but the scene.
Hochevar is the second-longest tenured Royal, arriving in 2007. After five years as a starter, there wouldn’t be a sixth for him. But Hochevar accepted his assignment in the bullpen and thrived in 2013, the Royals’ first winning season in a decade.
Tommy John surgery cost him his 2014 season and the opportunity to celebrate an American League title as a contributor.
Thursday night, the champagne dripped from his goggles. He looked around the clubhouse with a wide grin.
“The tough times made it all worthwhile,” Hochevar said. “To be a part of this, to have contributed to this, what a group to be around.”