2012 AL EAST CHAMPIONS
October 5, 2012 – I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in about a dozen Champagne-soaked clubhouse celebrations in my 10 seasons with the New York Yankees.
They never get old, and if I’m lucky enough to experience a few more or several more clinchers in the future, I’m sure I will feel the same way.
What I’ve learned to this point is that every champagne bath is unique. Every time a team clinches their division or wins a postseason series, there is something special that separates that celebration from all the others.
Most recently, I covered the Yankees post-game clubhouse party moments after they defeated the Boston Red Sox on October 3 and clinched the AL East.
There are several Yankees players and coaches who were on the team’s 2009 World Series championship team, and even a few who were in the Bronx for the four Fall Classic triumphs in the late-’90s and 2000.
From my experience, it seems as if most of the division championship or ALDS-winning celebrations have been subdued in comparison to nights when the team took home the American League crown (2003 and 2009) and, of course, when they’ve won the World Series (2009).
But, Wednesday night’s celebration was different. While it still didn’t compare to what I witnessed in 2003 or 2009, the team celebrated with more enthusiasm (and a greater number of champagne bottles) and for a longer period of time (nearly an hour), than when they’ve won the AL East in previous season.
There was never a second when it appeared that the Yankees were satisfied with a division title, but for all intent and purposes, this one might have been a little sweater than those in the past decade.
For starters, the 2012 Yankees had to overcome significant injuries a tremendous group of players including Mariano Rivera, Michael Pineda, Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner, Andy Pettitte, Mark Teixeira and Joba Chamberlain. Chamberlain, A-Rod, Pettitte, Gardner and Teixeira made it back before the end of the season, but All-Star pitchers Rivera and Pineda were lost for the entire season.
Additionally, the Yankees mid-season 10-game lead nearly evaporated, but thanks to an 18-7 run since September 5, the Yankees held on to take the division by two games and to force the Baltimore Orioles into a wild-game matchup against the Texas Rangers.
“We worked so hard to get to this position, and everybody grinded for 162 games,” Chamberlain said. “It came down to the last game, and it took everybody in the clubhouse to get there. We understand that it’s the first step in what will hopefully be a great ride, but it’s something that we need to celebrate. It’s important to understand what it took to get here.”
“We were pushed like we’ve never been pushed since I’ve been on this team,” Rodriguez added. “That enhanced the experience of winning the East.”
Another part of the night that was both exciting and rare took place in the seventh inning when Baltimore’s game against Tampa ended. The Orioles lost the game, and while the Yankees still had a few innings left against the Boston Red Sox, they had officially clinched the division when Baltimore’s game became final.
When the final score of the O’s game flashed on the scoreboard, the Yankee Stadium crowd gave the team a standing ovation
Rodriguez, who was in the batter’s box when the crowd erupted, didn’t know what was going on.
“I knew it wasn’t for me,” Rodriguez joked after the game. “Those cheers were way too loud.”
“I didn’t really know what was going on,” Chamberlain added. “I didn’t see anyone hit a home run, so put two and two together and figured it was probably the end of the Baltimore game. Our fans have been awesome, and it was nice hear them celebrate before we did.”
Hopefully, the next month brings several more special moments.
–Alfred Santasiere III