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Braves celebrate another division title, their 14th straight

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Braves celebrated No. 14 like it was
the first. For all those rookies, it was.

With a youthful, joyful exuberance that was there way back in
1991 -- when it all started -- the Braves wrapped up their 14th
straight division title on Tuesday night.

And what a party it was, especially for Jeff Francoeur. The
rookie got tackled on the field by Chipper Jones, stuck his head in
an ice bin and got taken down again by Jones in the clubhouse.

"Let me at him!" Francoeur mockingly screamed.

He was held back by Marcus Giles, who is 8 inches shorter and 45
pounds lighter.

"It's not worth it," Giles said. "We're going all the way to
Halloween. You can get him then."

The Braves actually clinched midway through a 12-3 victory over
the Colorado Rockies, the title assured when the second-place
Philadelphia Phillies lost to the New York Mets 3-2.

Manager Bobby Cox cleared his bench, finishing the game with a
lineup that included eight rookies and second-year player Adam
LaRoche.

That was only appropriate, considering the Braves have used 17
rookies during an amazing season in which they shrugged off
injuries and breakdowns by several key players.

"This ranks right up there," said Cox, standing outside his
office in a champagne-drenched T-shirt that proclaimed another NL
East championship. "This goes back 14 years."

Clinching in style, Giles hit a pair of homers and LaRoche also
homered.

"We knew we had clinched in the sixth," the 21-year-old
Francoeur said. "But we wanted to win. We wanted to earn it."

After Atlanta became the second team to wrap up a title,
following the NL Central champion St. Louis Cardinals, everyone
gave credit to the rookies. Yep, even Andruw Jones, a leading
candidate for MVP with 51 homers and 128 RBI.

"Sure, I've had a good season," he said. "But without them,
we wouldn't be here."

The celebration at Turner Field took a while to get going. The
Braves had just finished off a four-run fifth inning, giving them a
7-1 lead, when the Mets finished off Philadelphia.

A smattering of fans apparently learned of the Phillies' loss
via cell phone or other means, clapping as soon as Bobby Abreu
struck out. "Let's go Mets!" one man yelled. A tomahawk-chopping
woman held up a handmade "2005" sign above the left-field seats,
right next to the official pennants detailing each of the Braves'
playoff seasons.

But most of the crowd was apparently in the dark. The
out-of-town scoreboard merely showed the Mets leading 3-2 in the
eighth. Even after the Rockies were retired in the top of the
sixth, there was no mention of the division title.

Instead, the Braves showed the "Kiss Cam" on their massive
center-field scoreboard -- encouraging couples to kiss when the
camera turned on them.

In the bottom half, Giles hit his second homer, a two-run shot,
to give the Braves a 9-3 lead. When the Rockies made a pitching
change, the crowd passed the time singing "YMCA."

Finally, as Chipper Jones stepped into the box, the public
address announcer revealed the news.

Mets 3, Phillies 2.

The celebration was on. The crowd of 25,306 gave the Braves a
standing ovation, and several fans broke out signs marking the
occasion. "In case you didn't know -- 14 in a row," one said. Two
shirtless men had painted a "1" and a "4" on their chests.

After Jones struck out, Cox began pulling his starters. Rookie
Kelly Johnson pinch-hit for Andruw Jones. Little-used Brayan Pena
batted for Brian McCann.

After Pena came through with a bases-loaded double, pushing the
lead to 12-3 before he was thrown out at third, Cox cleared his
bench. Starting pitcher Tim Hudson (14-9) was replaced by Jim
Brower. Rookies Pete Orr, Wilson Betemit and Andy Marte entered the
game.

Even Eddie Perez, who missed most of the season with a shoulder
injury, got in as a pinch hitter -- his first appearance since May
18. The Braves came out of the dugout to clap for one of the team's
most popular players. The crowd chanted, "Eddie! Eddie!"

"A lot of people ask me what was my best moment in baseball,"
said Perez, who was MVP of the 1999 NL championship series. "This
was it. This was No. 1."

The Braves overcame all sorts of adversity to do what they
always do -- win the East.

When pitchers Mike Hampton and John Thomson went down with
injuries, Atlanta dipped into its bullpen for journeyman Jorge
Sosa, who had a career record of 11-26. He's 13-3 this season.

When aging outfielders Raul Mondesi and Brian Jordan failed to
recapture their past form, the Braves turned to Francoeur and
fellow rookies Johnson and Ryan Langerhans.

When Chipper Jones was sidelined by a foot problem, Betemit
filled in ably. When new closer Dan Kolb didn't work out, the
Braves traded for Kyle Farnsworth. When catchers Johnny Estrada and
Perez were ailing, McCann came up from the minors.

If nothing else, this season showed off the philosophy that has
carried the Braves to one of the most remarkable streaks in any
sport. It's all about scouting and player development, which was
evident in the clinching game.

Atlanta's lineup included three rookies and eight homegrown
players, the only exception being Hudson. And even he grew up a
Braves' fan in neighboring Alabama.

The youngsters were right in the middle of a four-run fifth,
which essentially finished off the Rockies. Francoeur beat out a
bases-loaded dribbler to third, driving in one run. Langerhans and
McCann followed with bases-loaded walks to make it 7-1.

Aaron Cook (6-2) took the loss, giving up eight hits and six
earned runs in 4 2/3 innings.

"This is pretty special," Cox said. "When the rookies came
up, the veterans turned it up a notch."

Together, they knew how to celebrate.

Game notes
The Braves have already cleared space on their left-field
facade to add another pennant. They likely will unveil it Wednesday
before finishing up with the Rockies -- the final regular-season
home game. ... A heavy but brief rainstorm delayed the game for 47
minutes after the second inning. ... Hudson improved to 87-4 in his
career when given at least four runs to work with. ... Garrett
Atkins drove in two of Colorado's three runs.