Relief pitcher Luke Hochevar quietly chatted in the Royals clubhouse Wednesday, blissfully unaware that his clothes were drenched in a mixture of champagne and beer.
The corks had been pulled about 10 minutes earlier as the team celebrated clinching the American League Division Series over Houston.
Drips of alcohol dripped from Hochevar’s beard onto the sheets of plastic lining the clubhouse floor as he answered questions about being part of another playoff party.
This, however, was much different than last year’s playoff run for him. Hochevar was in the dugout and clubhouse, but he never played in a game as he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery in March 2014. So this year is much more fun.
“It’s awesome,” Hochevar said. “There’s really no other way to put it (but) like I’ve said a thousand times before, I’d rather experience that last year (while) hurt than never experience it.”
Hochevar, 32, returned this season and compiled a 3.73 ERA in the regular season. He hasn’t been scored upon in the playoffs in four outings. He has thrown 4 1/3 innings and allowed three hits with two strikeouts and no walks.
The biggest moment of the playoffs for Hochevar came Saturday in the sixth inning of Game 2. Toronto led 3-0 and had the bases loaded with one out, but Hochevar didn’t allow a run to score, and the Royals rallied for a 6-3 win. It came less than 24 hours after Hochevar pitched a perfect ninth inning in a 5-0 win.
“These are moments that you dream of,” Hochevar said after Game 1. “You just pray that you can get back and the team can get back. To have it happen means a great deal.”
It means a lot to his manager as well. Ned Yost noted that Hochevar and Alex Gordon joined the Royals in 2007, when the Royals finished last in the American League Central.
The Royals didn’t have a winning record during Hochevar’s tenure until 2013.
“They were here from the beginning when we were really, really bad,” Yost said. Hochevar “had to endure all that. And we finally get to the point where we go to the playoffs and go to the World Series, and he can’t pitch.
“Probably the one thing that I was disappointed about last year was that I just wished that Luke could have been there to be a part of that. Finally, going through all the hard stuff and all the losing and get to a place where we’re in the World Series, I really would have loved to have seen him do that.
“To get back to the scenario where he can pitch in the playoffs is very, very special, I think to all of us.”
Although it was tough to be a playoff spectator (albeit one with a great seat), it motivated Hochevar when working with the training staff. It’s about a yearlong process, getting back to the mound following Tommy John surgery.
“It pushed me through those tough days when you’re grinding and rehab is monotonous and you are over it,” Hochevar said. “You just think about those times that with this club, you do have that opportunity to get back (to the playoffs). If anything, it lit a fire.”
It’s doubtful that the champagne has tasted any different to most of the Royals, who were in the playoffs a year ago.
Hochevar, who was part of the celebrations a year ago, might be the exception.
“Oh, yeah,” he said, “it’s a lot sweeter.”