They were soaked in champagne and beer, running through their clubhouse laughing and partying like it was the greatest night of their lives. And for some Braves, it probably was. The Braves clinched their 14th consecutive division title Tuesday night, the first such title for a bunch of them, but a special one for even the one player who's experienced all 14.
"Best feeling I've ever had," said right fielder Jeff Francoeur, the rookie sensation who won four state championships at Parkview High School, but nothing to compare with this. "Awesome. Incredible." Francoeur was at a loss for words after the Braves pounded Colorado 12-3 at Turner Field, but veteran pitcher John Smoltz was not. "No way you could predict what happened with this team," said Smoltz, who has been with the Braves for the entire division title run, but never saw anything quite like this. "I don't think people realize what an unbelievable accomplishment this is. This truly is a dream team."
Eighteen rookies melded with a core of veterans and marched to perhaps the Braves' most improbable division title since the run began in 1991.
"We persevered, and here we are," said second baseman Marcus Giles, who hit two home runs to help the Braves and Tim Hudson (14-9) roll past Colorado and touch off an uncharacteristic show of emotion in the clubhouse of a team often accused in the past of being too button-down professional for their own good. "To be able to experience this with this group of guys, this mix of guys, really makes it special," said Hudson, who got the win on the biggest night — so far — of his first season with the Braves. "A lot of people didn't think we could do it," he said. "Now we're just going to get keep it going."
Braves general manager John Schuerholz, usually dapper and reserved, was drenched in his oversized Braves division championship T-shirt, while players and wives and girlfriends partied all around him in the clubhouse. "It's like which of your children do you love most," Schuerholz said when asked which division title was the most special. They're all satisfying. This one is special. It's joyful, it's energetic, it's smiles — it's a lot more enthusiasm and jumping around than we've had some years."
"No one will ever do it again — ever," Smoltz said of the streak, which began in 1991, his fourth season with the Braves. "And this year — so many people doubted it. ... I didn't think we could get it done in May."