Originally created 09/27/00

Braves clinch N.L. East title

NEW YORK -- The party didn't begin with the first chorus of boos in the seventh. But, that's when the champagne was unpacked in the visitors clubhouse.

It's tough to celebrate winning a ninth straight division championship when there's still a magic number, but the Braves popped the corks and let the bubbly flow after Tuesday night's 7-1 win over the New York Mets at Shea Stadium.

The Braves, who arrived here unaware they could clinch the National League East with a single victory over the Mets, were the benefactors of baseball's tie-breaker system. Even if the Braves lose their remaining five games and the Mets win all theirs, the Braves still would be division champions by virtue of winning the season series.

"Here we are, standing on top of the East again," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "We've put up with a lot of stuff this year, but we can play with anybody, and we're not scared of anybody."

A season that began with a winter of discontent fostered by John Rocker's remarks in a Sports Illustrated piece and continued in the spring when John Smoltz was lost for the season, ended as so many others have for the past decade.

"This is a magnificent accomplishment," general manager John Schuerholz said. "Measured in terms of longevity and consistency, it ranks right up there for me. We're very proud of what we've done."

That the Braves did it at Shea, in front of a raucous crowd of 48,270, sweetened their delight. The Mets, who chased the Braves through the summer, were left hoping for a loss by the Dodgers or Diamondbacks to clinch the wild card spot.

"It's a rivalry that every year boils up," right fielder Brian Jordan said.

Now, an autumn of great expectations awaits a team that is finishing with a rush, winners of four straight and 10 of its past 13 games.

"I'm really proud of this ballclub and they have a lot to be proud of," manager Bobby Cox said.

On a night when the Braves sent their fifth starter to the mound and the Mets countered with their wins leader, New York's general manager, Steve Phillips, was left ruing his words.

"There's no question we do not want a celebration at our stadium unless we're celebrating," he said.

Sorry, Steve. In a champagne-soaked clubhouse, the Braves celebrated John Burkett's six-inning, one-run performance, another home run off Jones' sizzling bat and Andres Galarraga's two-run double that iced the game in the seventh.

Burkett, cut by the Devil Rays at the end of spring training, offered one of his best performances of the season with an autumn chill creeping down his back. The 35-year-old, 3-0 against the Mets this year, allowed only three hits, including Edgardo Alfonzo's sixth-inning home run, and fanned four.

"If you can get 10 wins out of your fifth starter, you're having some kind of fantastic season," Cox said.

Said Burkett, "I wanted to try and finish (the pennant race). I didn't want it to go any farther than this. It gave me a little extra incentive."

Mets starter Al Leiter, a 6-3 winner in Atlanta last Wednesday, was chased in the sixth. Chipper Jones launched his 35th home run into the left field bleachers, a drive estimated at 385 feet, extending his hitting streak to 13 games and increasing his September average to .419.

Javy Lopez doubled and following walks to Jordan and Reggie Sanders, third baseman Robin Ventura heaved Walt Weiss' tapper high and wide of catcher Mike Piazza. Lopez and Jordan scored to make it 4-0, and Weiss wound up on second.

Leiter (16-8) was done and so were the Mets.

"This team obviously has a lot of character," pitcher Tom Glavine said. "It's had a great run of success, but, again, this is the first step along the way. We hope we get to do this three more times."

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com.


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