Braves rout Rox after clinching NL East

Braves clinch NL East title

ATLANTA -- It's become an annual ritual for the Braves organization. But that didn't stop them from enjoying one of the most enthusiastic champagne celebrations that has been held in Atlanta during the past two decades.

With an unprecedented 14th consecutive division title clinched on Tuesday night at Turner Field, the Braves' clubhouse seemed more like a frat house, and there wasn't anybody complaining about the youthful exuberance being displayed by a team that yet again beat countless odds.

"This truly is a dream team," said John Smoltz, who is the only player to have been around since the record run of consecutive division titles began in 1991. "I didn't think it was possible in May. I didn't think it was possible from the time we left Spring Training with all the things that we were dealing with. Who could have imagined [17] rookies coming up here at different times."

Smoltz's proclamation came just moments after the Braves claimed a convincing 12-3 win over the Rockies with the help of a Marcus Giles two-homer performance and six solid innings from Tim Hudson. Atlanta actually clinched the National League East crown during the fifth inning, when the Mets completed their victory over the second-place Phillies.

"This is what it's all about," said Hudson, who allowed three earned runs and four hits. "This is why you play the game. You want to go out and win a [World Series] championship. This is the first step."

Now the Braves can prepare for the Division Series, which will begin in Atlanta on either Oct. 4 or 5. If Houston is the Wild Card, the Braves will open at home against the Astros on Oct. 5. If the Phillies win the Wild Card, the Braves will open at home Oct. 4 against the NL West winner, either San Diego or San Francisco.

But late Tuesday night, the Braves simply wanted to savor the moment and continue dousing each other with champagne.

The celebration was a little more spirited than previous ones because it included 21-year-old rookies like Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann and Kyle Davies, all of whom played a large part in the turnaround the team experienced during the season's final four months.

"This is a 20-year-old atmosphere," said Giles, who homered in the third and fifth innings. "To be honest with you, I think we've had a 40- or 50-year-old atmosphere the last few years. Things are changing. We've got the young guys coming in here changing it for us."

It was fitting that the Braves could begin their celebration after Joey Devine, who was their top selection in this year's draft, completed a perfect ninth inning. Surrounding him when the final out was recorded were seven other rookies. Throw in second-year player Adam LaRoche and there were nine homegrown products on the field.

"We had a lot of obstacles this year," said LaRoche, who began the second inning with his 20th homer of the season. "As everybody knows, we've been in and out of trouble all year. We just seemed to battle through it with new guys."

After Rockies starter Aaron Cook, who entered the game with six consecutive victories, issued two one-out walks in the four-run fifth inning, Chipper Jones sparked the rout with a two-run double. One inning later, rookie catcher Brayan Pena put the final exclamation on a productive evening with a three-run double.

Pena's double, which came just moments after the Rockies had tallied two runs against Hudson in the top of the sixth, was one of the eight hits the rookies contributed to Atlanta's 13-hit attack. Francoeur had two singles, including one that produced a run in the fifth inning.

"I think this year, there's a different atmosphere because of all the young guys," Andruw Jones said. "I think that's why this year is special."

Braves' dominance
Most consecutive division titles
Team
Streak
Years
Braves
14
1991-2005 *
Yankees
7
1998-2004 *
Yankees
5
1960-1964
Athletics
5
1971-1975
Yankees
5
1949-1953
* -- Current streak
Note: MLB began divisional play in 1969 and began play in three divisions per league in 1994.

While Andruw's Major League-best 51 homers and NL-leading 128 RBIs will provide many memories for the season, much wouldn't have been accomplished without the rookies. The Braves were just three games over .500 after a June 8 loss to the Angels.

During that same week, McCann and Boyer were promoted from Double-A Mississippi. Two weeks later, Kelly Johnson earned National League Player of the Week honors. Then one month later, Francoeur arrived and immediately began establishing himself as a top candidate to win National League Rookie of the Year honors.

"It's better than anybody could ever imagine," Francoeur said of the celebration. "It would be great to do this two or three more times."

While Francoeur was participating in his first celebration, Braves general manager John Schuerholz was thoroughly enjoying the excitement being displayed by his youthful bunch. Considering he's been the architect for each of the 14 division titles garnered in Atlanta, it's difficult for him to consider this his most satisfying division championship.

But it's rather obvious that he's not going to forget this one for a long time.

"It's like choosing which of your children you love best," Schuerholz said. "They're all satisfying. The first one was very satisfying. This one is especially satisfying, just because it's unique. It's different. It's joyful. It's energetic. It's smiles. It's guys jumping higher than they ever were before because we've got a lot of young guys."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.