HOUSTON – Per stadium rules, the smoking of cigars is forbidden at both Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.
Red Auerbach just rolled over in his grave.
But deep down south in Houston, anything goes.
The unmistakable waft of celebratory cigar smoke rippled through the visitor’s clubhouse at Minute Maid Park late Thursday evening, moments after the magical, 108-win Red Sox punched their ticket to the Fall Classic. Infielder Eduardo Nunez puffed with one hand and held up his index finger with the other, motioning a No. 1.
Who enjoys abiding by archaic rules, anyhow?
Minutes earlier, as Craig Kimbrel strode from the bullpen to the pitcher’s mound in an attempt to record those elusive final three outs of Game 5, the tunnels below Minute Maid were buzzing with activity.
Carts of Chandon Brut Champagne were rolled into the clubhouse. Security guards milled around, awaiting the postgame rush of mayhem that would soon ensue. Orbit, the Houston Astros mascot, skulked down a walkway, perhaps getting a jump on his winter job-search.
Whatever happened to “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over?”
But soon enough, it was over, and the first brush strokes on a portrait of bedlam and bliss began to be laid.
First, the champagne.
Players waited patiently as the ALCS trophy presentation was broadcast out to the world, live from the locker room. Once television interviews concluded, bottles were popped.
Kimbrel was all smiles after putting the finishing touches on a 4-1 victory over the Astros, but his grin faded in a blink when unofficial team prankster Brock Holt cooked up a new one, emptying a bottle of champagne down the inside of Kimbrel’s already sopping wet championship t-shirt.
“That burned,” said Kimbrel. “You ever shaved and then poured alcohol on your chest? That’s what it feels like.”
Chris Sale was even less fortunate, a stream of bubbly somehow dripping down his back, under his pants, and into his rear end. Former Red Sox captain Jason Varitek, now an instructor and special assistant to president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, poured a can of Sam Adams onto fellow catcher Christian Vazquez, then took some sips for himself.
“Doesn’t taste any different,” said Varitek, who enjoyed plenty of alcohol-infused celebrations over his 15-year MLB career.
Soon, Varitek was off to the player’s lounge — “I smell barbecue!” he said — where those who’d had enough of popping bottles shed their goggles and sat down to eat. That Texas BBQ sure tastes better after a win.
A few yards outside in the hallway between lounge and locker room, inimitable WEEI announcer Joe Castiglione tapped Xander Bogaerts on the shoulder to request a brief interview. Bogaerts greeted him warmly and stopped for a chat.
Mookie Betts wanted to commemorate reaching his first World Series, so he set off with an empty Chandon bottle, asking clubhouse manager Tom McLaughlin how best to secure it for safekeeping. McLaughlin told Betts he had to finish drinking the contents of the bottle first. Betts assured him that had already been accomplished.
“I’m not sure where it goes, but I’m definitely finding a spot for it,” Betts remarked.
Winning pitcher David Price didn’t have much time to bathe in the splendors of his redemption story as he and manager Alex Cora were the primary targets for hordes of swarming reporters.
What Price did have time for was a bit of dry humor. When asked by one of Boston’s public relations staffers if he was ready to go to the interview room, he responded affirmatively. Then, in a subdued tone he said, “If I’d have lost, I would’ve been going in there, [too].”
Traveling secretary Jack McCormick’s comedic stylings were more direct.
“Bus leaves in ten!” he cracked.
Many players eventually spilled back out onto the field to spend precious moments with family members and friends.
The generally stoic Jackie Bradley Jr. held a twinkle in his eye that only grew stronger when approached by reliever Ryan Brasier’s son, Kolton, and daughter, Avery. Both shook Bradley’s hand, then posed for a picture. Kolton uttered something to Bradley that induced a genuine bout of laughter. Meanwhile, Bradley’s wife, Erin, was dealing with a less happy camper: their own 2-year-old daughter, Emerson.
Back inside the clubhouse, others conducted hectic interviews over music blaring from loudspeakers. A sampling of the euphoric playlist included Post Malone’s hit single “Better Now,” and a rocking collaboration between artists Marshmello and Omar LinX entitled, “Keep It Mello.”
Keep it mellow? Oh, the irony.