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October 29, 2012

Out of Left Field

Postseason Celebrations: A Celebration

by Matthew Kory

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When we think about series-winning celebrations, we usually think about the dogpile on the mound or, in the case of a walk-off, the tackle-the-guy-who-got-the-hit-and/or-scored-the-winning-run. Like the history of baseball itself, the history of post-game celebrations is one of evolution. As society has changed, celebrations have become livelier. For example, here is a picture of the winners of the first-ever World Series, the Boston Americans, after they defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1903.

The first thing the astute reader will note is that the Pittsburgh Pirates are, in fact, sitting directly behind the Americans, also known as the Beaneaters, also known as the team that just beat them. It may be because of the primitive camera technology of the day that forced players to sit very still for long periods of time (relatively) to be photographed, but there don’t appear to be many smiles on the faces of the World Champions. Counting smiles moving from left to right, I get no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, maybe, no. If I had to guess which team won and which lost based only on appearances, I don’t think I could do it.* Also of note, the guy on the far left of the photo is holding a box. This is probably the first World Series trophy.

*Hmm… Pittsburgh? No? Rats.

Fortunately we’ve moved beyond the sportsmanship required to sit within inches of the opponents who just ended your season. And when I say, “moved beyond,” I mean “backed away from,” and when I say, “backed away from,” I mean “sprinted backward until we fell on our collective bottom.” We’ve reached a place where it’s unacceptable to show up your opponent after hitting a home run against him, but beating him in the World Series means you can throw a frat party on the mound. Progress.

What do the post-series celebrations from this postseason tell us about the winners and the losers? Maybe nothing. I went through each of the series to see.

The Wild-Card Play-In Games

AL: Baltimore defeats Texas

Situation: With two outs in the ninth, the score was 5-1, but the bases were loaded, so the outcome was in some doubt. Then David Murphy lofted a harmless fly ball to Nate McClouth in left field, which he caught for the final out.

Best Part: McClouth’s nonchalance. Act like you’ve been there before, right? Well he had sort of been there before. He got two plate appearances and appeared in three games for the Braves in their loss to the Giants in the 2012 National League Division Series. That right there is called experience. That and the fact that he isn’t Alex Rodriguez make him a True Yankee.

Worst Part: The unfortunate Oriole who took what looked to be a water balloon to the side of the head. You can see it coming here (top right of the screen)…

…aaaand…

ow.

Comments: Players want us to think that every regular-season game is the same and all playoff games are of equal import, or something like that, but sometimes we get a small hint about how they really see things. Nate McClouth caught the final out, a harmless David Murphy fly ball to left. Here’s what he did upon catching that ball, the catch that secured the Orioles' win and their entrance into the American League Division Series:

Kinda tame, right? But then sometimes you realize that actually you were reading way too much into a small moment and that celebrations just take a few minutes to get going. Here are the Orioles on the field a few moments later:

So there you have it. The Orioles are a slow-to-start-celebrating kind of team. And apparently I’m a Too-Quick-to-Characterize-Celebrations kinda guy. Whoops.

NL: St. Louis defeats Atlanta

Situation: With the score at 6-3 and runners on second and third, Jason Motte got Dan Uggla to ground weakly up the middle. He was thrown out by the second baseman, at which point all the Cardinals ran… to get off the field. This was the “Infield Fly” game.

Best Part: Because of the umpiring shenanigans that led to the fan shenanigans, the best on-field celebration I could find was this:

If you squint you can sort of see Jason Motte smiling while running for cover.

Worst Part: The infield fly call. Maybe the umpires interpreted the rulebook correctly, I’m not sure, but if they did, the rulebook is awful. That call overshadowed the Cardinals' win and thus their celebration. The on-field scene immediately after the Cardinals won looked like this:

Comments: Bad calls in the regular season are bad. Bad calls in the playoffs are the worst.

NLDS

St. Louis beats Washington, Three Games to Two

Situation: The Cardinals had just scored four runs in the top of the ninth and in the process turned what had been an eight-inning-long coronation of the Nationals into the worst loss Nationals fans and people with bad memories have ever seen.

Best Part: Expectations play a big role in how a team reacts to its win. An inning prior, though they likely wouldn’t admit it now, the Cardinals were thinking about how they were going to spend their winter. Then the world turned a tiny bit, things happened, and they won. The quick reversal led to some heightened celebrations.

I call this work of art, Excited Guy Who Just Caught Last Out.

This one is titled, Sprint to Mound.

I’m proud of this piece, entitled Dogpile On Field.

This is all standard stuff. Wonderful, wonderful, standard stuff.

Worst Part: The Cardinals, well, I don’t know because I wasn’t there, but I think maybe they kinda trashed the Nationals' clubhouse.

I know it doesn’t work this way, but I imagine the Nationals in full uniform walking into the opposing clubhouse the next morning, the light of morning piercing the windows and illuminating the champagne bottles and old jock straps left behind by the Cardinals. The Nationals all sigh quietly and slowly start putting the bottles into big recycling bins.

Comments: The emotional equilibrium that exists after a postseason series is odd. As amazed as the Cardinals were to have just won, the Nationals were equally as shocked to have lost. Here’s Jayson Werth while the Cardinals were whooping it up on the mound:

The camera flashed back to the Cardinals, who jumped around some more and hugged each other, and then the camera went back to Werth. He had somehow moved but clearly he had done it without breaking his stare at the field. Or blinking.

As quickly as baseball can move you to a place of exhilaration, it can crush you.

San Francisco beats Cincinnati, Three Games to Two

Situation: With a 6-4 lead and runners on first and second, Sergio Romo struck out Scott Rolen. That completed the Giants' comeback from a two-games-to-none deficit.

Best Part: Javier Lopez’s famous caboose routine:

Worst Part: Am I the only one getting tired of these prepared closer routines?

Romo: [pitch]

Rolen: [swing and miss]

Romo: [slam hands together, flap your arms, scream, cross your arms, cross your arms the other way, scream, SCREEEEEEAM!!!, calmly slap you catcher’s hand]

Comments: The Giants won the World Series two seasons ago, and many of their current players were part of that 2010 team. As such, the same level of enthusiasm doesn’t quite seem to be there. Which isn’t to say the team wasn’t enthusiastic. Again, I cite Sergio Romo:

In the dugout, everyone hugged because old people shouldn’t high-five. Bruce Bochy stood by himself and clapped because he’s the boss.

ALDS

Yankees beat Baltimore, Three Games to Two

Situation: CC Sabathia was in control from the start, so when the Orioles went 1-2-3 in the ninth inning, it was a bit anticlimactic.

Best Part: Probably the joy, momentary though it was, that Derek Jeter showed. After 18 seasons, only one of which ended without playing in the postseason, the old man still gets happy when his team wins a Division Series.

The preceding sentences were as close to Jeterating as I’ll ever get.

Worst Part: While I understand the expectations for the Yankees are bigger than winning a division series, it would have been nice for the Yankees to react in a way that suggested they had accomplished more than dropping a business card in the fishbowl at the front desk of the T.G.I. Friday's. Here’s Sabathia after throwing a complete game to win the deciding game of the series:

 

It’s a sort of a John McCain arm half-raise thing. Winning the Division Series didn't merit raising his arm above his shoulder. His manager was worse. Here’s Joe Girardi walking to the mound after Sabathia’s impressive performance and the Yankees' series victory.

 

Thought Girardi, “Can’t forget to pick up my dry cleaning. Also, need zip-lock baggies.”

Comments: And of course nobody was anywhere near A-Rod because everybody hates him and he’s not a Yankee he’s a centaur and he likes attractive women which is super weird and I’m probably forgetting 80 other somethings.

Detroit beats Oakland, Three Games to Two

Situation: After almost blowing a two-games-to-none lead, the Tigers won the deciding Game Five 6-0 on the strength of Justin Verlander’s dominant performance. Verlander got the A’s 1-2-3 in the ninth.

Best Part: Verlander started to celebrate as soon as second baseman Omar Infante fielded the ball.

Worst Part: The Tigers got a bit rough doing the old Grab’n Jump’n Yell thing that teams do when they win. I always worry someone will get hurt, but then if nobody got hurt in the middle of this, maybe I shouldn’t worry.

Comments: Contrasting this with the way the Yankees acted after winning, I feel like there must be a middle ground. Something that shows some level of excitement, but at the same time reduces the likelihood that someone’s head comes off.

ALCS

Detroit beats Yankees, Four Games to None

Situation: Up 8-1, Phil Coke got the immortal Jayson Nix to pop to first baseman and defensive replacement Prince Fielder.

Best Part: Phil Coke scored a touchdown, so of course he spiked his glove.

Worst Part: At that point, Coke turned to embrace his onrushing teammates. That was TBS’s cue to show you what the whole thing looked like via imaging from NASA’s Voyager satellite, currently on the edge of interstellar space:

Low blow alert: judging by his reaction, it’s clear Joe Girardi thinks the Yankees just won.

Comments: The Tigers did the team jump thing, and then there was a whole lot of hugging and hand-slapping. The fans stood and yelled for quite a while. It was possibly the nicest moment the team has had in a long time. There was even this fan who either made it into the park despite his or her disability, or just couldn’t locate a proper broom. Either way, awesome.

NLCS

San Francisco beats St. Louis, Four Games to Three

Situation: The Giants were crushing the Cardinals, 9-0, so there wasn’t much drama, at least not in this particular game. With two outs and runners on second and third, Sergio Romo (yes, him again) got Matt Holliday to pop up to second base.

Best Part: Immediately after Holliday made contact, Romo, knowing the last out had been made, jumped into the air.

Worst Part: Romo dance, part II:

Comments: Wow is it wet. Look at the footprints in the infield at the bottom left of this picture.

Not sure if Bruce Bochy is happier that the Giants won or that he’s still in the dugout and out of the rain.

Sometimes, when you and your team have just conquered the odds and are victors on your home field, the chaos of the moment becomes a bit much. Witness this guy. He’s the one closest to and just to the right of second base. Upon winning, he tossed his glove way up into the air in celebration. Then, like a responsible adult he went to pick it up. But the celebration was going on all around him. He had to find someone to celebrate with. Celebrations are no good all by yourself. So he needed his glove because it was his glove, but he had to keep his head up to watch for oncoming teammates and learn where the celebration was, and so he needed to go. As any infield coach will tell you, you can’t take your eyes off the ball. That’s when the ball plays you and this happens.

He picks up the glove and then accidentally kicks it over to shortstop. He jogs after it, but it’s kinda far away. "Should I go get it? Should I let it go and join in the celebration?" These are important questions! After a second’s worth of indecision, he peels away from the glove and runs a curl pattern right into the waiting arms of a teammate. Perfect.

World Series

Giants defeat Tigers, Four Games to None

Situation: Up three games to none, the Giants had scored in the top of the 10th to take a 4-3 lead. After striking out Austin Jackson and Don Kelly, Sergio Romo caught Miguel Cabrera looking to end the season.

Best Part: Catcher Buster Posey was on him so quick Romo couldn’t finish his Romo dance.

The umpire hasn’t finished punching Cabrera out and Posey has ripped off his mask and is on his way to the mound. Romo is still trying to get through his myriad flailings when this happens:

Worst Part: The baseball season is over.

Comments:

Yeah. That’s how it’s done. See you next year, Baseball.

Matthew Kory is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matthew's other articles. You can contact Matthew by clicking here

Related Content:  Playoffs,  Postseason,  Celebrations

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