As soon as I finish this column, I’m going to fist-bump deputy sports editor Marc Lancaster, untuck my shirt and head on home.
The job is done for the day.
Just call me the Rafael Soriano of columnists.
Soriano is in his first year as the Nationals’ closer, signed to a two-year contract worth $28 million. Thus far, he’s earned his keep. Going into Wednesday night’s game in Los Angeles, he had 12 saves in 13 chances. That means 12 times he’s untucked his shirt and fist-bumped the catcher du jour, marking a successful day on the job.
The untuck thing is a celebration that is a lot like Soriano. It’s understated, easy to miss. It’s also effective. And cool.
Most important, for all its simplicity, it’s fun. Sports are supposed to be fun, remember?
“I was with Atlanta, I think it was 2009, when I did it first,” Soriano said during the Nats’ recent homestand. “One day, it was a tight game. I do my job and I take my shirt out. So that’s what I have been doing since then.”
As celebrations go, it is about as tame as it gets. But it is still a celebration and there are those who think that’s a no-no for a pitcher. One of the unwritten rules and all that. You never show up the hitter. Do your job and go home.
If Soriano was untucking his shirt and pointing at the hitter or the other dugout, maybe that would cross the line. He isn’t. “I’m not that type of guy,” he said.
Besides, have you ever watched what happens when a closer doesn’t do his job? Every time someone wins a game with a home run or anything else, there’s a mad celebration at home plate, a dog pile that might make you think the World Series had just been won.
That’s OK but a pitcher enjoying the successful completion of his work isn’t OK?
“People have to remember, this is hard for us,” said Detroit closer Jose Valverde, whose brief dance that is sometimes accompanied by a loud scream makes what Soriano does look really tame. “Closing a game can be hard, especially a one-run game. When the game is over, dance a little bit. To me, it is no big deal what Soriano does. I like it.
“The job is done. It’s a little celebration for the fans and for the team. That’s all it is. When I do it, I feel so excited I do some jumping and dancing. I enjoy the moment.”
Both closers said they’re fine with hitters celebrating when they do their jobs. If someone wants to untuck his shirt after hitting a game-winner off Soriano, he said he’d be OK with that. Valverde said they can dance around the bases if they want.
“They do their job, they should celebrate,” Valverde said. “You have to enjoy it.”
As the summer progresses and Soriano Fever grows, it would be nice to see and more and more people enjoying it the same way Soriano does.
Thus far, a smattering of Soriano’s teammates including Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche and Denard Span have untucked here and there.
“I like it,” Soriano said. “I think after the game [last Thursday], I see a couple of people do it.”
Maybe one day after a Nats victory, the entire handshake line will be done with untucked shirts. Maybe even Davey Johnson will get in on it.
It could spread to the stands, too, though if you’re at a baseball game with your shirt tucked in you probably have deeper issues than can be solved here. Baseball is a T-shirt (never tucked in), shorts and flip-flops kind of sport. Or jeans and sneaks when the weather is cold. If you do for some reason have a shirt tucked in, untuck.
The job is done.
Soriano has been with three teams now since his Atlanta days. He’s been untucking in Tampa Bay and New York, too. The reaction here, he said, has been positive. “I love this team, I love this city,” he said.
The feeling is growing more mutual with each untucking Soriano earns.
“I think a lot of people get such a wrong idea about Sori,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “They think he is quiet, maybe a little arrogant. He couldn’t be more different than that. He’s fun. He talks with all of us. He knows the game. [Untucking] is just kind of his thing, it’s just what he does.”
So when will Zimmerman join the party? That elicited a chuckle.
“I’ll do it if he saves the last game of the World Series,” Zimmerman said.