Orioles players, coaches and personnel funneled into the clubhouse after an 11-inning tussle with the Tampa Bay Rays, each donning bright orange shirts with “Take October” plastered across the chest. Manager Brandon Hyde lifted his hat slightly up off his forehead with a sigh of relief and raised a Budweiser in his right hand to address the plastic-wrapped room.
“Wouldn’t have done it any other way today,” Hyde said of the Orioles’ 5-4 win that doubled their lead in the American League East and came soon after the Texas Rangers’ loss solidified the organization’s first trip to the playoffs since 2016. “Absolute grind. So proud of you guys this whole year.”
With each word out of the fifth-year manager’s mouth, another bottle of champagne popped in anticipation of a moment this team has longed for. “The first step,” Hyde said. And again, “This is the first step,” as each bottle of Bouvet champagne scored the postgame speech. “We’re gonna keep doing this because this [stuff] is fun. This is why we do this. This is step one of many celebrations. Here we go!”
The room erupted. Right fielder Anthony Santander was first to crash the middle of the circle to douse his manager. Players continued to embrace and pour drinks over one another, filling squinted eyes. Pitcher Kyle Gibson half-jokingly discouraged his teammates from wearing the bright-green-banded goggles. “The burn is the best part,” he said.
“I used ‘em in like 2017 [with the Minnesota Twins] and then I couldn’t see anything,” Gibson continued. “So you know what? I said, ‘Heck. I’m going to enjoy the burn.’ It only burns for a little bit and you’re not guaranteed to ever feel that burn again.”
Pent-up energy of a stressful close to a consequential game and the culmination of a rebuild years in the making permeated through the clubhouse in the form of alcoholic showers and wide-grinning smiles puffing on celebratory cigar smoke.
“It’s a big milestone to lose 110 games two years ago and then clinch to go to the postseason,” Hyde said. “So everybody that’s involved, I’m just happy for them. I didn’t get a ton of words out because all of a sudden, we had a lot of spraying going on but I want them to really enjoy this moment and they deserve to celebrate and they’ve earned it. But we still have ways to go.”
No two MLB clubhouse celebrations are the same. The personalities and energy unique to rosters and cities shine the brightest in the shared joy.
Baltimore’s postgame festivities were a peek behind the curtain into a team that only recently slogged through multiple 100-loss seasons and emerged out the other side on pace to eclipse 100 wins.
“Most of us came up together, so the camaraderie here is unmatched,” said pitcher Dean Kramer, who went five innings and a batter deep, allowing one run with five strikeouts in Sunday’s win. “They’re basically my best friends.”
It was Kyle Bradish in charge of music to kick off the celebration.
The pounding bass intro to cultural anthem “SkeeYee” by Sexyy Red met the end of Hyde’s speech. Then Bradish congregated his teammates for the chorus to Lil Uzi Vert’s “Just Wanna Rock.” The pitcher played “Transportin’” by Kodak Black next — Adley Rustchman knew every word to that one — followed by “Day ‘N’ Nite” by Kid Cudi.
Bradish later handed the Bluetooth speaker over to Santander, who shifted the vibes to reflect his Latin American roots. He danced to songs like “A Partir De Esa Dia” by Fao Fao then “Taki Taki” by DJ Snake.
And as the clubhouse slowly cleared out, leaving only the players, Santander ran “SkeeYee” once more.
James McCann and Jack Flaherty directed much of the controlled chaos.
The team’s veteran catcher and their most coveted deadline acquisition handled “homer hose” duties. Neither let anybody get a pass from crouching to a knee and chugging as teammates poured additional champagne over top.
Shintaro Fujinami, who pitched 2/3 innings Sunday, allowing a hit and a walk with a strikeout, played the relatable part of the friend who needs only a couple of drinks before telling everyone how much he loves them. Fujinami leaped into his teammate’s embrace. And he locked arms to chug a beer with fellow reliever Yennier Cano.
Somewhere in Fujinami’s cellphone camera roll is a selfie video of him down on a knee, arm stretched wide to record himself taking a flood of champagne to the face.
Then came the Heston Kjerstad concoction. The 24-year-old right fielder, who was promoted Thursday and crushed his first home run a day later in his third career at-bat, climbed into a clubhouse laundry cart — a longstanding clubhouse tradition often used to celebrate career firsts.
Kjerstad sat deeply in the cart with his arms and legs hanging out the sides while his teammates drowned him in a medley of liquids.
It was beer and champagne. It was Chick-fil-A sauce and olive oil. Players collected copious smoothie flavors to dump on Kjerstad’s head. Salad dressing, mango salsa, ice cream, juice and even a watermelon all made their way on and around the rookie following the first series of his big league career.
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Making his way to his locker at one point, Gibson bent over to swipe a few champagne bottle corks and tuck them into his locker. They’ve become little mementos at his house. Gibson said his kids love seeing them.
“They feel like they’re a part of it,” he said. “You enjoy each moment, find little things to take with you so you can think back on these times because not every day’s fun, but you don’t get to do this a lot, so you’ve got to enjoy it.”
The Orioles surely enjoyed it. They almost had to celebrate after a loss, which surely would’ve dampened the mood, as consecutive Tampa Bay home runs in the top of the eighth gave the Rays a 3-1 lead. But a comeback that largely showcased the team’s resilient backbone earned them every single popped bottle of champagne.
“We had some discussions about what we wanted to do here after the game, whether win, loss, clinch, whatever,” Gibson said. “Ultimately, it came down to you’re never guaranteed to get to do this again. So whenever you get the chance, you take the chance and you enjoy it. ... It’s really cool to get to sit back and see guys that have been through that really get to enjoy this moment.”
The Orioles sniffed a bit of success last year having been in the playoff hunt until the final days. But this year, they could taste it. They earned a chance to bask in the cigar-lit, champagne- and beer-soaked glory of a playoff berth.
“This is the greatest day of my life,” Ryan Mountcastle said. “Champagne tastes a little bit sweeter.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Nathan Ruiz and Jacob Calvin Meyer contributed to this article.