For Dodgers like Trayce Thompson and others, winning the NL West has a special meaning
It wasn’t the first champagne shower Trayce Thompson had been in.
But it was the first one he felt truly a part of.
“It was really cool,” the Dodgers outfielder said. “I tried to soak it in as much as possible.”
When the Dodgers clinched the NL West on Tuesday night, locking up their ninth division crown in the last 10 seasons, it set off the kind of champagne-and-beer-soaked celebration most players in their clubhouse have experienced on an almost annual basis.
Their current roster, after all, includes 20 former World Series champions and 690 combined postseason games played.
Winning the division was special. But it wasn’t exactly a unique feeling.
Thompson was a rare exception. Along with Andrew Heaney and Yency Almonte, the journeyman outfielder is one of three non-rookies on the team who has never appeared in a playoff game. There are a few others, such as Hanser Alberto and Joey Gallo, with only limited postseason experience.
For them, Tuesday’s night festivities represented something different. The division championship t-shirt and hat, the plastic wrapping and neon goggles in the clubhouse -- it all resonated a little bit more.
The Dodgers have qualified for the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season, but it’s going to be some time before they know who their opponent will be.
“We were loving it,” Almonte said. “It was something new to us.”
Thompson had been part of Dodgers celebrations before.
On the club’s 2016 division-winning team, he was a breakout star during the first half of the season before having his campaign cut short by a back injury. He spent most of 2017 in the minors, but was called up in September in time to be there for another division-clinching moment.
Both times, he was in the locker room for the bottle-popping bash.
Almonte had a similar experience in his rookie season with the Colorado Rockies in 2018.
The right-hander appeared in just 14 games that regular season, and was left off the postseason roster in favor of more experienced arms. He, too, was in the room when the Rockies locked up a playoff berth that year.
But this season is the first time he’s been a serious contributor on a playoff-bound team.
“We have a chance to go into the playoffs and maybe even get to the World Series and win it all,” said Almonte, who has missed the last month with an elbow injury but is nearing a return and felt good during a simulated game on Wednesday afternoon. “I’m just trying to rehab, be a part of that. And I know I can feed off these guys’ energy and go out and do my job.”
Heaney had waited longer than anybody in the clubhouse on Tuesday night.
The 31-year-old left-hander rarely came close to the playoffs during the first seven years of his career with the Miami Marlins and Angels. Then, after being traded to the New York Yankees at the trade deadline last season, he struggled down the stretch and was optioned in late September -- four days before the Yankees clinched a wild-card spot.
“Watched the Yankees celebrate, pop champagne, while I was sitting in a hotel room by myself,” Heaney recalled this week. “That was a pretty low point for me.”
On Tuesday night, with goggles hanging from his neck and his hair still dripping with booze, Heaney was asked if it felt as good as he’d imagined.
“Oh yeah,” he smiled. “This is great.”
There were others in the room Tuesday night who found special meaning in the celebration.
The Dodgers defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks 4-0 on Tuesday to become the first team in the majors to win their division.
It gave rookies such as Miguel Vargas, Andre Jackson and Michael Grove -- who started Wednesday’s game to give the rest of the rotation an extra day of rest -- a taste of what it’s like to experience major-league success.
For others, such as Alberto, it commemorated a long-awaited return to the playoffs, with the utility man’s only other playoff experience coming as a rookie with the Texas Rangers in 2015.
“For me, you never know when it’s going to happen again,” said Alberto, who helped kick off Tuesday’s party by putting a twist on Vin Scully’s legendary call, shouting “It’s time for Dodgers celebration!”
Like everyone else, however, even the Dodgers novice postseason players were looking ahead by Wednesday afternoon.
“We got a lot more opportunity to win,” Alberto said.
Echoed Thompson: “It’s a special moment, but at the end of the day, with this team, everyone knows what’s really at stake.”
Tony Gonsolin (forearm) had an “encouraging” bullpen session on Wednesday, though his status for the rest of the season is unclear. Manager Dave Roberts said he is hopeful Gonsolin will contribute in the playoffs, but added it could come in a variety of roles.
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