Somewhere deep in the bowels of Chase Field this morning, there are several unopened cases of champagne. It’s probably stored close to the plastic sheeting, which will be hastily adhered along the top of the lockers in the visiting clubhouse if the Dodgers have a lead in the late innings of tonight’s game with the Diamondbacks, because players keep a lot of things in their lockers, such as cell phones and iPads, that are averse to moisture. There are goggles, too, because champagne might bring pleasure to the tongue, but it brings instant pain to the eyes. Oh, and there probably is a box of T-shirts somewhere, too, declaring the Dodgers the 2013 champions of the National League West.
It’s a pain in the derriere to travel with all that stuff, so the Dodgers really, really want to make use of it before they leave Phoenix. In fact, what they really want to do is just make use of it tonight and get it over with.
The magic number is two now. But the Diamondbacks are in second place, and the Dodgers are playing them tonight, so in effect, the magic number is one. The Dodgers win tonight, and they win the N.L. West.
And if you think some of the lineups the Dodgers have been fielding the past few days have seemed not quite ready for prime time, just wait until you see what they run out there for Thursday’s 12:40 game if they do happen to clinch tonight.
The Dodgers would’ve liked to have clinched this thing before leaving Los Angeles on Sunday night, to do it in front of the home fans, but that didn’t happen. But clinching it here wouldn’t be too far off that. Dodgers-Diamondbacks games at Chase Field routinely draw large swaths of blue-clad Dodgers fans, and given the fact the Diamondbacks have never been a big draw locally anyway, and given the fact they clearly are out of this race even if they aren’t officially out of it yet, the rather sparse crowds for the first two games here (24,033 and 26,304) have been almost evenly split in terms of loyalty to the two teams.
So if the Dodgers do win tonight, or tomorrow, they will do it in front of plenty of their own fans.
Vin Scully mentioned on the air during last night’s broadcast that the Diamondbacks have made a request of the Dodgers, that if they do clinch the division here, once they have left the field and gone to the clubhouse, they are asked not to return to the field to share that celebration with the fans in the stands. The reason is apparently so that the ballpark can be emptied out in the usual, timely manner. We can talk all day about whether we dislike that request, but what strikes me is this: the tradition of going back to the field to celebrate with the fans usually is limited to celebrations at HOME. The fact the D-backs even felt the need to make this request tells you a lot about the crowd that is expected to be out here tonight in hopes of sharing in a special moment.
By the way, I have probably seen more than a hundred games in this ballpark over the years, which means I probably have spent about 200 hours in the visiting clubhouse here. There has only been one division title celebrated in there, the Padres in 2006 — they actually tied for the division title with the Dodgers that year, but because the Padres held the tiebreaker, they got the title and the Dodgers got the wild card. But there was almost a much bigger celebration in there one night in November 2001.
Yes, that’s right, I said November. That was the year that the 9-11 terrorist attacks pushed everything back a week, and the World Series went seven games, so Game 7 was about a week into November. Anyway, the Yankees led from the top of the eighth, when Alfonso Soriano hit a tiebreaking solo home run, until the bottom of the ninth, when Mariano Rivera famously coughed up the game and the Series. During that time, the Fox TV people, out of sheer practicality, began constructing a platform in the clubhouse for the postgame trophy presentation, because it takes time to build those things and so you have to start ahead of time.
Well, as the story goes, this drove the late George Steinbrenner through the roof. The famously bombastic Yankees owner apparently was the superstitious type, and he didn’t like anything having to do with a celebration getting under way until there actually was a reason to celebrate. Well, when the game got away, the platform was hastily deconstructed. A little later, a crestfallen Steinbrenner was walking down a service tunnel outside the clubhouse and passed the very Major League Baseball official whom he blamed for giving the OK to construct the platform in the clubhouse in the first place.
I was here that night, but I didn’t witness the encounter first-hand so I don’t know if I have the quote exactly right. But what I’m told Steinbrenner did was point his finger at this person and shout, “This is all your fault. You jinxed us.” And no, he wasn’t joking.
Tonight’s game will be broadcast by Prime Ticket. Luckily, local telecasts don’t require platforms to be constructed in the clubhouse.
By the way, a frequent commenter to this blog who goes by the tag Tio Bob has suggested that I don the blue-striped polo shirt you see me wearing in my mug shot for tonight’s potential celebration. You know what, I’m going to go one better than that. I have been deliberately avoiding wearing that shirt to work since I launched this blog just because it’s the shirt I’m wearing in the mug shot. But I have decided that I AM going to wear it tonight, and not only that, I’m going to wear it EVERY DAY until the Dodgers clinch. Without washing it. I will shower every day, but it’s still pretty hot here in Phoenix, and it’s a long walk from the parking garage to the press gate. So that shirt might be a little ripe by tomorrow if the Dodgers don’t clinch. And if they still haven’t clinched by Sunday, that shirt might just stand up by itself.