Yankees 'never stopped believing'
After starting slowly, season culminates with postseason berth
ST. PETERSBURG -- It was almost as if they hadn't been there 46 times before.
There was complete chaos in the visitors' clubhouse afterward, and for good reason; after losing Tuesday's marathon game by the skin of their teeth, the Yankees' 12-4 win on Wednesday clinched their 13th consecutive postseason berth and felt so good.
"It's our time of the year, baby!" screamed Shelley Duncan, over the popping of champagne corks and shouts of joyous teammates.
The Yankees made sure of that earlier in the evening. The crowd of 21,621 largely pro-New York fans was on its feet and cheering, "Let's go Yankees!" as Greg Norton popped out to second baseman Robinson Cano to end the game. The postgame celebration on the field was tasteful and almost reserved -- long, meaningful hugs, handshakes and lots of quiet emotion from manager Joe Torre and the team's veteran players.
The scene in the clubhouse moments later was complete chaos.
A large metal tub full of iced Chandon greeted the players in the common room. They didn't need any more encouragement than that, some twisting off tops with their teeth, others two-fisting the bottles and shaking them, still more spraying their bottles like firehoses all about the room.
Johnny Damon showered himself in champagne. A horde of teammates trapped Alex Rodriguez and emptied their bottles over his head, chanting, "Superman!" amid his squeals of protest. Doug Mientkiewicz, who had clearly done this a time or two before, donned goggles to keep the spray from stinging his eyes and ran about the room, alternating between bellowed victory cries and self-imposed champagne baths.
"It's been an unbelievable ride, and I could not be more proud of every member of this team," Rodriguez said. "We went through a lot of adversity, and a lot of people counted us out."
Thankfully, the clubhouse had been party-proofed during the game. Clubhouse attendants had taped tarps over all of the lockers and televisions and covered the ground with waterproof flooring. Of course, it didn't stop everything else, including a TV reporter as she interviewed Mariano Rivera, from getting soaked.
"It's been the most difficult one," Derek Jeter said of the Yankees' most recent regular-season journey. "We really battled. We didn't hang our heads, and we continued to battle all season long."
Torre even got drawn into the madness. The Yankees skipper dipped into the room long enough to grab a bottle of bubbly, then slipped into a quiet corner. He almost appeared to be standing in reverence, admiring the long road that his team had traveled to get to this point. Perhaps remembering when, in May, New York was in the American League East cellar, maybe giving himself a mental blow-by-blow recap of the obstacles it had overcome to get to this point.
Eyes full of emotion, Torre called over his captain. He and Jeter seemed be having an emotion-filled conversation. Torre put his arm around Jeter, then poured half the bottle of ice-cold champagne over the captain's head.
He then proceeded to do the same to Rodriguez.
For those 30 minutes, everyone caused some kind of mischief, and no one, no matter how he tried, stayed dry.
One face was missing from the initial mob scene. Starting pitcher Kei Igawa had somehow managed to slip into the shower room unnoticed, but it didn't last for long. His catcher, Jorge Posada, crept up to the bathroom door, hollered his name and made sure Igawa got a good taste of what was taking place in the clubhouse.
It was clear who the rookies were, and Joba Chamberlain and Duncan were by far the most vocal, dumping beer and champagne over themselves, the floor and anyone around them as they howled like animals.
After some time, the champagne ran out and the scene became a bit, albeit not much, more subdued -- enough for the media to creep in cautiously and catch Torre for an interview.
He held his cool for the first few questions but broke down in tears when a reporter mentioned that the Yankees' players credited Torre for the team's turnaround this season.
"I can't say enough about the passion of these players," said Torre, his voice cracking with emotion. "We never stopped believing all year."
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.