HOUSTON — In the champagne-fueled visiting clubhouse at Minnesota’s Target Field on Monday night, Aaron Judge stopped the Yankees’ ALDS- winning celebration to make an announcement.
It was time to award the championship belt.
“What a series, what a game,” Judge said. “Each and every one of you guys went out and did your job, man. I love it.”
“Who wants the belt?” one of Judge’s teammates yelled out.
“Tonight,” Judge said, “the belt goes to GT, baby.”
“GT” stands for Gleyber Torres, who had gone 3-for-4 with an RBI and made a great defensive play in the Yankees’ series-clinching Game 3 win over the Twins.
Judge handed Torres a gold wrestling championship belt with the Yankees logo in the center and blue leather straps. Torres accepted it and was showered with champagne and beer.
Thanks to the cameras in the locker room for the celebration, fans got a rare glimpse into a postgame ritual that the Yankees have performed 106 times this season (mostly without the champagne and beer) going into Game 1 of the ALCS against the Astros on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park.
The Yankees have given out a belt in previous years, and the Mets used to do it, too, beginning in 2015, the season they lost to the Royals in the World Series.
This year, it began for the Yankees on March 28 after their Opening Day victory over the Orioles.
“We’ve been doing it since our first win against Baltimore,” first baseman Luke Voit said on Friday. “It’s just like a little fun camaraderie thing to have. Something to look forward to if you have a good game, hopefully. It’s just cool because everybody stands around and whoever got it the previous game hands it out. Kind of reminds me of a college atmosphere, and that’s kind of what this locker room is.”
One hundred and five times the belt went to a player. But one time it was given to manager Aaron Boone — on July 18, after Boone was ejected from the Yankees’ 6-2 win over the Rays and went on his now-famous “savages in the [expletive] box” rant.
“I love the belt,” Boone said. “It’s been a team-building thing for us. In a way, it’s created some competition. Guys want to fight for it, want to perform for it. It’s fun to see teammates talk through it and have to give it out. So I think it’s been something that — especially in the course of a long season — is something that adds to the camaraderie of things and even the competition of things.”
Third baseman Gio Urshela, who said he’s gotten the belt “probably like five, six times,” added: “That’s something we do to keep the group together. You’ve got to keep it and give it to the next guy.”
Social media is awash with photos of proud 2019 Yankees showing off their belts. Just as long as they don’t lose it . . .
“We’ve had a couple guys wear it on flights and stuff,” Voit said. “You just hang on to it. I think a guy’s left it behind before, too.”
Who is awarded the belt? It’s not always the player who hits the walk-off homer. Sometimes it’s a starting pitcher, sometimes it’s a guy who makes a key defensive play.
“Even sometimes,” Voit said, “it goes to a reliever.”
Not too many times, according to righthander Adam Ottavino, who said he’s been awarded the belt exactly once. It was on April 26 after Ottavino struck out Giants catcher Buster Posey with the bases loaded to end the seventh inning in a 7-3 win.
“One time,” Ottavino said. “It’s tough for the bullpen to get it. I feel like almost everybody on the team’s gotten it at one point. Nobody’s keeping track. I just think it’s a good way to quickly appreciate the win and not look past it. Understand that each win is important. I know there’s a lot of games and I feel like we take a quick moment just to recognize the accomplishment of the win and who played a big role in it.”
The belt-receiver is expected to say a few words to the group.
“People are anxious to see what the guy’s going to say,” Ottavino said. “So you’ve got to say a little something to fire up the team.”
After ALDS Game 3, Torres said: “Great win. But tonight is played already. Let’s go on to the next series. Let’s go!”
And what did Ottavino say on April 26 to fire up the team?
“I think I just said, ‘Let’s get out of here. We’ve got a day game tomorrow,’ ” Ottavino said. “I was tired. Something like that.”