Braves clinch 13th straight division crown

ATLANTA (AP) -- The cigars were bigger than ever, the champagne

and beer just as cold.

The scene in the joyous Atlanta Braves clubhouse showed that

winning never gets old.

The Braves clinched their 13th consecutive division title Friday

night, winning the NL East with an 8-7 comeback victory over the

Florida Marlins.

Afterward, a smiling and soaked Chipper Jones sat slumped on a

table and tried to put the record run into perspective.

"Besides my first one, this one is definitely the most special

to me," said Jones, a rookie on the Braves' 1995 World Series

championship team.

Picked to finish behind Philadelphia and Florida by many before

the season, the Braves were six games under .500 and 6½ games out

of first place on June 23. They are 58-26 since, leaving the

Marlins and Phillies to fight for second place.

"They shouldn't have picked against us," Jones said.

Marcus Giles' go-ahead single capped Atlanta's three-run rally

in the eighth inning, and John Smoltz fittingly closed it out for

his 41st save in 46 chances. Smoltz is the only Braves player to be

a member of all 13 division championship teams.

Even so, he was almost overcome by the comeback that suddenly

thrust him into the save situation.

"Everything happened in a hurry, it was unbelievable," Smoltz


"I was just trying to get three outs any way I could. I felt

like a rookie who didn't know where he was but should have been the

most calm."

Atlanta's incredible streak began with the 1991 NL West title

and excludes the 1994 strike-shortened season. But the Braves have

only one World Series ring to show for it, that 1995 victory over


The Braves became the third major league team to clinch their

division, joining St. Louis in the NL Central and Minnesota in the

AL Central. The New York Yankees have secured at least a wild-card


Andruw Jones homered for the Braves, who rallied against the

Marlins just as they rallied during the season. Trailing 7-5, they

came back against Guillermo Mota and Armando Benitez.

"We scored three runs in the eighth inning against two of the

best relievers in the National League," Chipper Jones said.

Giles delivered a two-run single against Benitez, who took over

for Guillermo Mota (9-7) in the eighth.

The Braves have relied on strong pitching through their run, but

they used seven relievers Friday night after starter Russ Ortiz was

chased in the third inning.

Giles' single drove in Julio Franco and Andruw Jones.

Giles said it was appropriate the Braves had to fight for the

clinching victory.

"An easy win wouldn't have been fitting for this ballclub,"

Giles said. "This ballclub has had to scratch and claw for


Afterward, no one was spared a spray of champagne or beer, even

general manager John Schuerholz and manager Bobby Cox, the

co-architects of the division dynasty.

"It never gets old," said Schuerholz, beaming.

"They have done a great job," said Marlins manager Jack

McKeon, also an authority on building championship teams.

"Bobby and Schuerholz, the whole organization, they go out and

get the right guys for their club, guys that fit in. They have a

knack for bringing people from the minor leagues that make an

impact. They don't get the recognition they deserve."

Travis Smith (2-3) earned the win with one inning of relief.

Alex Gonzalez was 3-for-4 with two homers, including a go-ahead

shot in the sixth inning, and Paul Lo Duca hit a three-run double

for the Marlins.

Marlins starter Ismael Valdez also was pulled in the third

inning, but relievers Ben Howard, David Weathers combined for five

shutout innings.

Ortiz wasted leads of 2-0 and 5-2.

The clinching win left Cox four victories shy of 2,000 for his

career. Only eight managers have reached the milestone.

"We're still going to win for Bobby," said Mike Hampton,

Saturday's scheduled starter. "He's still got some stuff on the

line, even though he doesn't talk about it."

In his third season, Giles already is a veteran of the

celebrations, as he proved by wearing goggles to protect his eyes

from the stinging alcohol.

"(Tom) Martin has my first pair of goggles I wore my first

year," Giles said. "I figure I'm making more money now, I could

get a more expensive pair."

Marlins outfielder Jeff Conine called the Braves' streak of

division titles "pretty unbelievable."

"Give them credit," Conine said. "They always win."Game notes
Juan Pierre's leadoff single in the first gave him 204

hits, matching the Florida record he set last season. ... Ortiz

posted his 1,000th career strikeout by fanning Castillo in the

first inning. ... Andruw Jones' homer was the 250th of his career.

... Florida LHP Dontrelle Willis singled in the sixth inning,

lifting him to 3-for-8 as a pinch-hitter.