There will be another game tonight at Camden Yards, another lineup to post and more matchups to dissect.
The regular season hasn’t ended. It just felt that way last night.
Bud Norris opposes J.A. Happ, and this game also counts in the standings. The Orioles are vying for home-field advantage. There’s still a carrot dangling in front of them before they sink their teeth into the American League Division Series on Oct. 2.
Manager Buck Showalter may rest some of his regulars, especially with the tension between the Orioles and Blue Jays thicker than the warehouse. Nick Markakis seemed fine last night, but he took quite a shot from Toronto left-hander Aaron Loup. And heck, someone might get in Jose Reyes’ way again. Can’t have it.
I was collecting mental snapshots in the clubhouse following last night’s clincher. Better than exposing my iPhone to the champagne being sprayed.
The moment that probably meant the most occurred when Zach Britton walked over to me with two beers, handed one to me, tapped them together and said, “This is for Monica.”
I needed a few minutes to compose myself. Just a beautiful, heartfelt gesture, and more evidence that Monica Barlow, the former PR director who passed away on Feb. 28, remains close to this ballclub.
A photo of Monica from the 2012 wild card celebration hangs outside manager Buck Showalter’s office. I scanned the clubhouse a few days earlier and counted at least 11 players wearing the K Cancer T-shirts in her honor. She’s not here, but she’s still here.
Monica’s husband, Ben, was in the clubhouse last night and immediately thrust into the middle of the celebration. He had no shot at standing against a wall and taking in the scene.
It wasn’t long before he was drenched, just like everyone else.
“I just doused him. I just got him,” said reliever Tommy Hunter. “He came in here and I gave him a big hug. Chris (Davis) had her picture up the whole year, Buck’s got her picture up over there. She’s finally smiling. She’s a special person.
“Man, it’s awesome. It’s not awesome, but it’s awesome. I don’t know how to explain it. It brings a tear to your eye. I mean, I wish she was here. I do. Everyone does.
“To see her husband in here and be able to throw a beer on his head and give him a big hug right afterward, it meant a lot. I’m glad I got to do it. She was special.”
No matter who I talked to about Monica over the past few days, they all had the same reaction. Such a coincidence that I brought up her name, since they were just thinking or talking about her.
“She would be so proud,” said vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson. “We were talking about her today. Buck was talking about how he misses her and how moments like this, he wishes that she were around.
“There aren’t too many days go by that everyone on the team doesn’t think about her.”
I’ll just let the players take it from here, starting with center fielder Adam Jones:
“To me, I’ve been here for a while with her. She is still part of our family. We see her husband a lot and it’s good that he’s around because we got to know him, as well. It’s good to see him embracing the situation. I really wish we could share this with her present self, but I know she’s watching over us and wishing all of us the best of luck. But to have her in here in 2012 was special, because she had been here through the good and the bad of the Orioles and it was good to see the flip.
“Don’t think that she’s not remembered in here. She’s gone, but she’s in this locker room, in this city, in this warehouse, the Orioles organization. She’s one of the most remembered and revered people because of how she did her business and how she carried herself.”
Right fielder Nick Markakis:
“She’s still with us. She would have loved it. I don’t know any other way to put it besides she was one of us. She put in her time, she put in her hours and she was part of this group here. It was just an unfortunate situation and a terrible loss, but she’s with us. She’s taking care of us right now and she’ll be with us.”
Before last night’s game, Britton told me that the relievers frequently talk about Monica and how much they want to win for her.
“In the bullpen, we actually mentioned it the other day. It’s pretty cool to be in this situation. We know she’d be excited. Hopefully, we can get a win these next couple days and wrap it up because it would be special, something that she would have loved to have been a part of.
“I can remember in 2012 what we had to do to get her involved in that celebration. Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, she’s so excited,’ and we’re like, ‘It doesn’t look like it,’ so we were able to get her in there. But we know that she’s going to be celebrating with us whether we get it tonight or the next couple of days. It’s something that we’re definitely going to think about and it makes you realize how these moments are really special because you don’t know if you’ll get to spend it with these people again.”
Reliever Brian Matusz:
“You know, it’s so funny that I woke up this morning thinking about the celebration in 2012 and how much fun that was and just going back and thinking about how much fun that’s going to be today after the game if we win, and Monica popped in my head. Just thinking, man, two years ago she was here and thinking how meaningful that was. But you know she’s watching and she’s going to be here for it. I mean, it’s unfortunate she’s not here, but we still keep those memories close.”
Head athletic trainer Richie Bancells:
“It’s funny you mention it, because it’s come in my mind the last few days through all of
this. I’ve just been thinking about her. I don’t know how to say it other than wishing she was here to enjoy it, because I know she would.
“I usually think about her during batting practice because her and I used to sit together all the time. Yeah, she’s definitely in my thoughts through this whole thing, because to me it feels like her spirit’s here and she’s a part of it.
“I still have a hard time wrapping my head around that thought, you know? That it was just this February, before the season started. It’s still kind of a hard thing for me to wrap my head around, but I feel like she’s still here with us and still a part of it.”
I asked Showalter yesterday afternoon whether he’s thought about Monica more these last few days with the division title almost in hand.
“I wouldn’t say more because I think about her every day,” he replied. “Stuff like Chris Davis and how she would have handled that. We miss her all the time, but... How do you equate that? (Her photo) is the first thing I look at every day when I come in. Also realize how much this - I don’t say ‘would have meant to her’ - it means to her because she’s taking it in. Trust me.
“Would really like to hear her take on things. I miss bouncing things off her. She was always a voice of reality where I’d kind of go, ‘Yeah, she’s right.’ I got so irked at her being right all the time. But she will definitely be at the top of the list of things I’ll think about if and when it happens.”
Showalter’s voice lowered, the emotions tugging harder at him.
“I don’t know,” he continued after a brief pause. “How do you respond to that without getting overly emotional? Yeah, I think about her all the time.
“I don’t think of it in terms of what it would have meant to her. What it means to her right now. I’ve had my share of talks with her. She still gives me advice.”
Still impacts this team, this organization, this magical playoff run. Still here.