ATLANTA -- On the night the Braves captured the National League East with a 20-3 demolishing of the Florida Marlins at Turner Field, the bubbly of choice was Cook's, vintage unknown, and it wore as well as it tasted.
Just ask third baseman Chipper Jones, who lost his dry look as soon as Marcus Giles snuck up behind him and drained his bottle over his head.
"Feels great," said Jones, presumably referring to a 10th straight division championship. "I think we all had our doubts at some point during the season about whether we had the team to do it. We've been put to the test so many times this year. It was nice to clinch it this way." The celebration, at least on the field, was a muted one, a handshaking line of players moving to BTO's "Taking Care of Business."
Inside the clubhouse, the emotions were raw, especially for outfielder Dave Martinez, who will go to the postseason for the first time in his 15-year career.
"It's overwhelming," he said. "I can't even talk right now. It's been a long time, but it's definitely worth the wait."
Wearing t-shirts emblazoned with Phillies reliever Ricky Bottalico's assessment of 10 straight championships -- "absolutely ridiculous" -- the Braves sprayed the obligatory champagne and, in a new celebratory twist, added pudding to the party.
Bobby Cox, a cigar roughly the size of Barry Bonds' bat clenched between his teeth, strolled the clubhouse, shaking hands and offering congratulations.
"Every championship is special," he said. "It's a great feeling, no matter how you get there."
Imagine how the Phillies felt, sitting in leaky Cinergy Field as their game against the Reds was rained out, watching the Braves wrap up a division title that seems to have become their manifest destiny.
"It's a magnificent accomplishment," GM John Schuerholz said. "No other professional team in any sport has ever done what we've accomplished. We're very proud, very honored, and very thrilled by it."
Ten completed seasons, 10 division championships. That's one more than the Boston Celtics (1957-65) and Los Angeles Lakers (1982-90), and one for the record books.
"That's what makes this one so special," pitcher Tom Glavine said. "The fact that nobody else has ever done this."
In an ironic twist, a club that's struggled to score runs all season won this one with the biggest offensive explosion in Atlanta history.
The first inning was historic, to say the least, and seemed to last an eternity for the Marlins.
Florida starter Ryan Dempster's outing went into the dumpster quicker than manager Tony Perez could say "I quit." Too bad Perez didn't announce his resignation 24 hours earlier; he would have been spared the sight of Dempster scattering pitches like buckshot.
Dempster, an All-Star last year, faced nine batters, walked six, and was charged with seven runs. Perez mercifully ended the shortest outing of the 24-year-old's career after he issued a free pass to pitcher Kevin Millwood with the bases loaded to make it 6-3.
"(Pitching coach) Rich Dubee came out and said, `It's like you're going to battle with a water pistol and everybody else has shotguns,' " said Dempster, the major league's walk leader. "What are you going to do? Go ask Bobby Cox for a redo?"
Reliever Benito Baez turned a brush fire into a three-alarm blaze, walking Giles (the seventh walk of the inning) to force in another run, then Jones launched a 3 and 2 changeup into the left field seats, the sixth grand slam of his career, to make it 10-3. It was Jones' 38th home run of the season and boosted his RBI total to 101, making him the first third baseman in major league history to drive in 100 runs in six consecutive seasons.
"I've never been part of an inning like that," said Jones, who finished with two hits and five RBI. "It seemed like our guys could do no wrong tonight."
By the time the first inning was complete, Dempster and Baez had thrown 66 pitches, 25 for strikes, and had combined to set three club records. The 10 runs was a new high (low?) in a single inning for the Marlins, the seven walks was also a new team mark, and Dempster's six walks was a club record for one pitcher in an inning.
"It's just a day I feel sorry for a few guys," Perez said.
The 10 runs was the most an Atlanta team had ever scored in the first inning, and was the most productive opening inning by a Braves team since the Milwaukee club scored 10 against the Pirates on June 12, 1953.
It was also the first time any major league team had a 10-run first since the Red Sox dropped an 11-spot on the White Sox on June 26, 1999, and marked the 45th time since 1900 a team had scored 10 or more in the first inning.
"This team has been a lot different the last week, I don't know what it is," Jones said. "We've turned it up a notch. I don't think any of us could have asked for a better seven-day period."
By the time the champagne was pulled from the refrigerators and the clubhouse covered in plastic sheeting, every regular with the exception of B.J. Surhoff had scored at least two runs, every regular had knocked in one run, and every regular with the exception of Andruw Jones had a hit.
"It's special for us," right fielder Brian Jordan said. "We overcame a lot of obstacles along the way. It's been a great comeback for us."
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