Random observations from an eventful night in Cincinnati.
The clubhouse is always quiet in the immediate minutes following an Astros loss, regardless of what time of year it is or who they’re playing. The timeline is always the same — players talk in hushed tones for the first 10 minutes or so, then as time goes on, players relax, the conversations go back to normal, and by the time they leave the clubhouse, the atmosphere is pretty stable, albeit a little more subdued than when they win.
The visitors clubhouse was a little quieter than usual, however, after the Astros lost to the Reds Tuesday night. The Astros were officially eliminated from the playoff race quite a few days ago, so it’s not as if this loss ended their quest for a division title. But no matter how far out of the race you are, or how long you’ve been out of playoff contention, it’s never, ever fun to watch another team celebrate a division title by beating you.
I remember back in 1997, when the Astros beat the Cubs at home to win their first NL Central title. One of the Cubs broadcasters came up to me and offered his congratulations, but he had this sad, pained look on his face, and I thought, how strange. The Cubs were terrible that year, were never in the hunt, yet this loss seemed to really hurt him. I didn’t get it then. I get it now.
The Astros were in St. Louis when the Cardinals clinched in 2000, and again in 2002. They were also in Philadelphia last year when the Phillies won the NL East, and now, they watched the Reds celebrate their first division title in 15 years. And yea, each time, it does leave the defeated team with a pretty empty feeling.
That said, the Astros were gracious in defeat Tuesday night. They commended the Reds for what they did this season and vowed to try to be in such a position in 2011.
“Anytime you experience something like this,” manager Brad Mills said of watching another team clinch, “you become better off for it. You want to be on the other side of it. It’s good to learn how to go through it. I like where we came from, and where we’re going, without a doubt.”
Kudos to Tim Byrdak, who handled his role in the loss with a lot of grace, after giving up the game-winning home run to Jay Bruce. He walked to his locker, faced the media and stated the obvious: he made a bad pitch, right down the middle of the plate, and Bruce hit it a long way.
“You want to come in here and win all three games,” Byrdak said. “You want to be in a playoff race and you want to win. Yea, it did (stink) today.”
And Jason Castro, from a rookie’s perspective: “Every loss is a loss. It’s hard to see (the Reds celebrate) but they’ve played great baseball. We’ll grind it out these next five games. come out next year and hopefully aspire to do that.”
A lot of you tweeted me tonight asking if this was a bittersweet experience for me. As some of you know, I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, one hour north of Cincinnati, and was part of a family that lived, breathed and loved the Reds. I attended the University of Cincinnati for both undergrad and graduate school. But I am being completely honest when I say that I had no feelings of satisfaction watching the Reds win the division Tuesday night. I feel the same way anyone else from our division does — I’m glad to see a team in the NL Central other than the Cubs and Cardinals win it. I have no personal vendettas against those two teams, but it’s nice to see someone else win for a change.
I’d feel the same way about the Pirates and Brewers — if it can’t be the Astros, let it be them.
I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point, maybe two or three years into my Astros career, Houston truly became home to me. It was a city I knew nothing about (my mom had to look up Houston in the encyclopedia to find out where exactly in Texas it was: “It’s two-thirds of the way down on the right side”), and now, it’s a city I hope I never have to leave. I used to wonder how my life would have been different if, in 1993 after my journalism professor at UC had recommended me for an internship with the Reds, the ladies at the switchboard at old Riverfront Stadium would have actually put my call through to the PR director so I could ask about it. They didn’t. Seventeen years (and four division titles, two Wild Cards, one NLCS Game 7 and one pennant) later, I’d like to say to those ladies: thank you.
I’m happy for the Reds, and really, really happy for the hard-working people in the media relations office who are, along with the Astros’ staff, the absolute best in the business. It’s nice to see good things happen to good people. So congratulations to the Reds, and to Dusty Baker, one of the all-time truly great people in our game.
We arrived to the hotel about an hour after the game, and the elevator banter was back in full-force. It’s sort of a time-honored tradition: everyone pushes the button to his or her floor, and when the elevator stops for the first time, everyone yells “take the stairs!” to whomever exits. It’s the same thing every time, and every time, it’s funny. It reminded me of an instance in the late 90s when Mike Hampton and I were the last ones left on the elevator. He was on the eighth floor, I was on the 15th. As he walked off the elevator, he pushed the buttons for floors nine, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14. Needless to say, it was a while before I got back to my room. Good times.
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