Maybe an hour later, when the Nationals filtered into the visitors’ clubhouse at Houston’s Minute Maid Park to continue the celebration of the World Series title they just won, Gomes’s locker was covered in plastic to protect it from the inevitable spray of champagne, but his mask rested inside. Likewise, the Nationals’ clubhouse staff had tracked down Hudson’s glove and returned it as well.
But . . . the ball? What happened to the ball?
Asked last week, Gomes’s eyes narrowed. He paused, then spoke slowly.
“What makes you think you need to know?” he said.
The ball Howie Kendrick shot off the right field foul pole for the two-run homer in the seventh that put the Nationals ahead had been collected — yellow paint mark and all — and reserved for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Manager Dave Martinez’s “Finish the Fight” hoodie, Stephen Strasburg’s jersey from his Game 6 victory and Max Scherzer’s hat from Game 7 all joined Kendrick’s ball in Cooperstown.
But over the course of an unlikely and exhilarating October, culminating in that Game 7 win over the Houston Astros on Oct. 30, the Nationals’ players, coaches and staff collected bits and pieces they hoped would resonate well beyond.
“I’ve got a box full of stuff,” first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “There’s so much, I haven’t been able to go through it all.”
The collection, though, kind of starts with Zimmerman. The Nationals’ first victory of the fall came in the National League wild-card game. That night, the Nats trailed Milwaukee 3-1 entering the bottom of the eighth inning at Nationals Park. With one out, Michael A. Taylor pinch-hit for Strasburg — and was hit by a pitch, barely, from Milwaukee relief ace Josh Hader. With two outs, Zimmerman came up against Hader, who ran a 97-mph fastball in on his hands. Zimmerman fisted it into center field, breaking the bat but sustaining what became the winning rally.
And the bat?
“Oh, I’ve got that,” Zimmerman said.
Handle and barrel?
“Taped it back together,” he said.
Zimmerman used to collect jerseys from other players. “But they take up so much space,” he said. So a few years ago, he began collecting bats instead. He has a display rack in the basement of his McLean home, probably 40 or 50 strong.
“Fits in pretty nicely,” he said.
Not everyone has taken such care with what some would consider priceless artifacts. Mike Wallace, the Nationals’ longtime clubhouse and equipment manager, had his staff on the field during the celebration wielding carts, making sure they rounded up anything and everything the players might have tossed aside during the celebratory mayhem. Major League Baseball employed four authenticators on-site to verify with a sticker all the items that had been worn or used during the game, a means of staving off counterfeiting. That’s how cognizant officials are of how valuable otherwise innocuous items can become.
And yet . . .
“The glove?” Hudson said. “It was back in my locker somehow. I’ve got it. But it’s seriously just sitting in my closet at home.”
Strasburg’s glove from his 8⅓ -inning outing in Game 6? It could have gone to the Hall of Fame. Instead, he moved aside some shirts hanging in his locker at spring training.
“It’s back there somewhere,” he said, nodding into the darkness.
Others have taken more care. Kendrick, for instance, kept the bat with which he hit the decisive blow. Martinez said he has “everything” — his jerseys, his shoes, his hats. And in the maelstrom, he had the presence of mind to scoop up some dirt from the area near home plate.
“Put it in my back pocket,” Martinez said. It’s now in a Mason jar in his home outside Nashville. He also not only saved the lineup card that adorned the dugout wall, but he had copies made for all of his coaches and members of the traveling party. He’s still sifting through what to showcase.
“We’re really just starting to figure out how to display everything,” Martinez said.
Not everything can be easily displayed, either. Strasburg was the World Series MVP, and along with the trophy for that accomplishment, he was granted a new Chevrolet Corvette C8. He posed with a vehicle on the field at Minute Maid Park — just not the vehicle.
“I kind of slow-played it,” he said. “They want you to customize it, and I just sent in the paperwork.”
A guy who just signed a $245 million contract could afford his own car. But Strasburg said he intended to keep this one.
“I think that’s going to be the trophy,” he said.
And it didn’t have to be corralled by the clubhouse staff in the aftermath.
Which brings us back to the baseball.
“I wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh, crap, it’s 3-2,’ ” Gomes said. “ ‘If we strike him out, put it in your pocket.’ ”
But that doesn’t mean Gomes had never considered the fate that awaited him. Late in the regular season, he was chatting with Ali Modami, one of the Nationals’ batting practice pitchers. Modami asked, “If you caught the last out, what would you do?”
“Oh, man,” Gomes said he replied. “I’d pocket that.”
And then Brantley was swinging through Hudson’s down-and-in slider, and Gomes was corralling it, and then he was chucking his mask.
“It comes to a point where I’m thinking about throwing my glove,” Gomes said. “But the ball was in there, so I just kind of wrapped it up.”
During the celebration, he put it in his pocket. He kept it all night. He does not, however, talk much about it.
“I make jokes here and there about, ‘You’ve got to split it in half with me,’ ” Hudson said.
“Yeah,” Gomes said. “He’s not the only one.”
So Gomes is going to keep the ball. It’s back home in Knoxville, Tenn., along with his mask, his chest protector, his shin guards — all his gear.
“We’re trying to do some things to display it all,” Gomes said. “You just don’t know if that’ll ever happen again.”
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