As the champagne and beer flowed, covering every inch of the plastic-protected visiting clubhouse at Comerica Park, Michael Brantley stood just to the side, a calm smile on his face.
Others donned goggles and popped corks and, for all intents and purposes, went crazy like baseball teams tend to do after the Indians clinched their first American League Central title since 2007.
But Brantley stood just outside in the halfway, talking with guys walking by and sharing some hugs. Still rehabbing from August surgery, he has to be cautious.
“Yeah, I can’t get hit,” Brantley said. “I’ve got to look from the outskirts.”
But he was there, in Detroit, with his teammates to enjoy the party. It was important to the Indians that he, Yan Gomes, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar be with the club when they clinched and celebrated. It didn’t matter that Brantley has played only 11 games this season, or that Carrasco and Gomes are very likely done for the rest of the year.
“We wanted to make sure they were here for this,” said Jason Kipnis. “They’re as big a part of the team as anybody. You’re naming a bunch of our core guys. You’re naming a bunch of guys that got us this far. So, even if they may not be playing right now, they’re as big of a reason as some of the guys who are playing. They need to be a part of this. They need to celebrate. They need to enjoy themselves, because they earned it, too.”
Cody Allen delivered the final strike before joining the mob of players behind the mound. Once it calmed down, one of the first guys he hugged was Brantley.
“I know he hasn’t been on the field a whole lot this year, but he’s a huge part of this,” Allen said. “There are spots in the season where guys are down or in slumps and you could feel the thing going the wrong way and a guy like Brantley, his voice carries so much weight. He can pack it in mentally and physically and just focus on himself, but he doesn’t. He focuses on, ‘How can I help in any way, shape or form?’ Guys like that are special.”
Those who were hurt celebrated as they could. Carrasco partied with a water-proof seal over his cast protecting his fractured right hand. At one point, Gomes came up to Brantley—gingerly—and said, ‘We’re going to do it slow’ before sharing a drink.
It’s all Brantley was able to do during the celebration, but it did make him a part of it, just as it did for Carrasco, Salazar and Gomes. For much of it, he stood just inside the hallway peering into the clubhouse, looking as much like a proud parent as anything.
“It’s awesome,” Brantley said. “It’s an all-around team effort. We’ve preached that day in and day out. To be here, to celebrate with your teammates, with all the hard work all the guys put in together as one, I don’t know if there are the right words for it.”