This story was reported by Neil Best, Andrew Gross, Anthony Rieber, Tom Rock and Colin Stephenson. It was written by Rieber.
Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. was supposed to start Game 3 of the ALCS on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
He didn’t because of an elbow injury — but not the usual kind of elbow injury pitchers suffer.
McCullers was clipped by a rogue champagne bottle during the Astros’ clubhouse celebration after they beat the Mariners in the ALDS in Seattle last week.
“Unfortunately, after the victory in Seattle, I caught a stray champagne bottle to the elbow bone,” McCullers said on Friday. “Some guys were coming back behind me and the bottle just happened to kind of hit the back, inside part of my elbow as the people were passing by. It wasn’t like we were getting wild. I was standing there, he was walking by and just happened to hit me in the right spot.”
McCullers suffered a cut and some swelling. He is scheduled to start Sunday’s Game 4.
“Lance had a mishap,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said, “and so we had to give him an extra day.”
“Mishap” is a nice way to put it. But can you blame the Astros for getting out the champagne bottles and celebrating after they won a championship?
Oh, wait — they didn’t win a championship. They won a playoff round. And it wasn’t their first champagne celebration of 2022. They hope it was only their second of four.
You see, baseball teams break out the bubbly for every step of what they hope will be a championship journey.
It is unique to baseball. Just like McCullers’ injury.
The Astros had a champagne-spraying celebration in the clubhouse after they clinched the AL West title on Sept. 20. They had one in Seattle after the ALDS. They hope to have one if they beat the Yankees in the ALCS. And then the big one — if they win the World Series.
The Yankees, who entered Saturday in a 0-2 hole in the ALCS, are hoping for the same schedule. They broke out the champagne after clinching the AL East title on Sept. 27 in Toronto, and again after ousting the Guardians in the ALDS.
Even the Mets got to taste some bubbly. After they clinched a postseason spot in Milwaukee on Sept. 20 — the franchise’s first since 2016 — players drank (but did not spray) non-alcoholic sparkling wine. There was one bottle of champagne, but that was presented to Max Scherzer on the occasion of his 200th career win.
The Mets were saving the rest of the champagne for when they clinched the NL East title and for future playoff series victories. But they blew the division to Atlanta and lost to San Diego in the Wild Card Series. So if owner Steve Cohen purchased any champagne, it will have to remain on ice until 2023.
As we said, baseball teams are unique in punctuating each division-clinching and playoff-series win with a boozy clubhouse celebration.
In the other sports, the champagne waits until the ultimate goal — the Stanley Cup Final, the NBA Finals and the Super Bowl. Is that how it should be? Or should the other sports let the champagne flow a little more freely?
“I love how baseball does it,” said Rangers forward Barclay Goodrow, who was a member of the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in 2020 and 2021. “I think when you clinch your division, that’s a big feat to accomplish. And then getting through each round, I think it’s not easy to — whether it’s baseball, basketball, hockey — I feel like baseball’s the only one that really celebrates each round. I mean, I get it. It looks like a lot of fun. Yeah, I would kind of wish it was it was like that in more sports.”
“Well, the goal is to win the Stanley Cup,” Goodrow said. “When you win the first round of playoffs, you’re a quarter of the way there. It’s not much to celebrate. That’s one way to look at it. And then another way to look at it is, you made it through another round, and you’re still playing, and there’s half the amount of teams remaining. So I can see both ways. It’s a lot of fun spraying champagne in the locker room. If you had the opportunity to do that multiple times in a season, I think that’d be awesome.”
Not every player shares Goodrow’s hopes of more champagne.
Islanders left wing Matt Martin, who has twice advanced to the NHL semifinals, said: “The end goal for us is to win the Cup. Baseball is a longer season, shorter playoff. They celebrate when they advance and that’s cool. That’s good for them. But I don’t think you’ll see that in hockey. Guys are focused on winning the Cup.”
As for the celebration when you win a playoff round, Martin said, “There’s excitement, for sure. And there’s good energy. We certainly enjoy every round you advance. A little bit, I guess, of a celebration, if you want to call it that, in the locker room. But, at the same time, we turn it over so quickly . . . hooting and hollering and then it’s kind of right back at it.”
Giants cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, who played in six playoff games for the Titans and won three of them, said he was not aware that baseball teams popped champagne after every round — and didn’t sound as if he wants NFL teams to adopt the practice after a playoff win.
“I didn’t even know they did that,” he said. “To actually get to pop the champagne after you won the whole thing seems like a pretty nice thing to do . . . Understand it was a blessing to win that [playoff] game, but the end goal is always to win the Super Bowl, so for us it was to keep going, keep going. Even when we got to the AFC championship, I don’t think we were ever satisfied with winning a round. Obviously, it’s a nice accomplishment, but at the end of the day, like Kobe Bryant said, ‘Job not finished, job not done.’ ’’
The Jets have two recent Super Bowl winners on their roster in defensive lineman Vinny Curry, who was part of the Eagles team that won Super Bowl LII, and safety Jordan Whitehead, who won Super Bowl LV with the Bucs.
In the NFL and the NBA, there are extended celebrations on the field or court after a championship is won. Golden State, for example, had a baseball-type champagne celebration after winning the most recent NBA title, but only after a long time celebrating on the court with the NBA championship trophy.
The same is true in the NFL, where the field is littered with confetti and someone gets to say, “I’m going to Disney World!” in the immediate aftermath of the ultimate victory. The champagne and goggles come out in the locker room.
“You know how they show the NBA and the Kobe pictures and all that?” Curry said. “Yo, they never show the behind the scenes of the football teams. They only show the on-the-field stuff. The confetti. They only show that part. Man, it was good. Everybody wanted that Michael Jordan/Kobe picture sitting on the seat hugging the trophy. There’s nothing like it . . . When you’re holding that Lombardi [Trophy] and you’re shining it up and you got your family with you and everybody is touching it and passing it around, ain’t nothing like it.
“All the champagne comes out. We do the same thing. Not after playoff wins, but after a Super Bowl win . . . After a championship win, the champagne comes out and people go all crazy. There’s crying.”
But, Curry said, there’s less spraying of the stuff in an NFL locker room. Makes sense if you get to do it only once.
“Nah,” he said. “Football players are drinking that.”