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Worth repeating year after year: Here's to the Braves

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published October 2, 2005


It is time to give the Braves their due. Fourteen consecutive division titles - 14.

Granted the NL East has been filled with underachievers, especially this year. But keeping such a high level of performance over such a long period of time is a credit to manager Bobby Cox and especially general manager John Schuerholz , who is in his 15th year with the team and keeps the stream of talent coming.

Atlanta seems ready to make a little postseason history as well. According to a poll of baseball writers conducted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution , Cox is favored for manager of the year, centerfielder Andruw Jones for MVP and rightfielder Jeff Francoeur for rookie of the year.

Such a sweep would be the first since the 1985 Cardinals with Whitey Herzog , Willie McGee and Vince Coleman .

As for the division title, starter John Smoltz said this year's was one of the most satisfying because almost no one expected the Braves to win.

"This is for everyone who doubted us," Smoltz said after Tuesday's clincher. "People said I couldn't make the transition back to starting. People said we had too many rookies again. But we proved everybody wrong. This is really something to celebrate."

"This is almost better than the first time," said third baseman Chipper Jones , who has been celebrating division titles since his rookie year in 1995. "Or at least as good."

Cox agreed.

"We're the baby Braves," he said. "But this is also for our young veterans. This is as good as it gets. Every (championship) is special, but this is right up there at the top."

ABOUT FACE: In about two weeks Ozzie Guillen went from calling managing the White Sox his "dream job" to threatening to step down if the team won the World Series. Why? He's sick of the boos that went with the team's recent downturn and the pressure to succeed.

Still, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf told the Chicago Tribune he's not working on a short list of replacements.

"A lot of stuff he tells to the media he's just making it up," Reinsdorf said. "You don't know what to believe and what not to believe. Look, if we win the World Series I might retire. Let's win a World Series and see if he's serious."

"I say this because I want to win it here," Guillen said. "It would give me the opportunity to pick what I want to do. I didn't say I'd leave baseball. I can't live without baseball."

WHITHER NOMAR?: Shortstop Nomar Garciaparra may be out of Chicago after this season. The Cubs seem ready to pursue Atlanta's Rafael Furcal if he reaches free agency. And Garciaparra has been playing third base since late August when Aramis Ramirez went on the disabled list.

The Chicago Tribune said Garciaparra has lobbied to play leftfield next season, where the Cubs will have an opening.

"If you're where you want to be and you want to be part of a great organization and a great team, I have a hard time saying it's a sacrifice. It's just something you do because we're a team."

EVIL EYE: When Twins manager Ron Gardenhire Wednesday removed pitcher J.C. Romero (who hit Royals batters with two of 10 pitches), he glared at the left-hander who was three steps off the mound by the time Gardenhire got there.

"Unacceptable," Gardenhire said after the game. "That will be dealt with."

Romero said he is frustrated over a difficult season and gave this head-scratching assessment.

"I'm human," he said. "I'm a product of my mistakes."

PADRES ENVY: Don't dismiss San Diego in the first round of the playoffs. Ace Jake Peavy is throwing better than either ace for the Cardinals or Braves.

Entering Saturday, Peavy was 7-3 with a 2.14 ERA since Aug. 1. St. Louis' Chris Carpenter has a 9.14 ERA in his last four starts and Atlanta's Smoltz shut down recently because of shoulder pain.

ETC.: Red Sox closer Keith Foulke is expected to have surgery on his right knee in the next few weeks. ... Talk about jumping the gun. The Boston Globe reported that a Sept. 19 letter from the Yankees to their suite-holders began, "The Yankees are entering postseason for the 11th consecutive year." Any embarrassment was spared when they clinched the division Saturday. ... Adam Dunn had 39 home runs entering Saturday and 157 in 41/2 years in the majors. "The guy doesn't know how good he is," teammate Jacob Cruz said. "He has 157 home runs and he's only 25. He'll hit 500 by accident." ... Think the Devil Rays have problems? The Pirates have played sub-.500 baseball for the past 13 seasons. ... Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols went 19 games before hitting his 40th home run Friday. ... The Kansas City Star reported that the 6.99 ERA of Royals starter Jose Lima is the highest in history for pitchers with at least 30 starts.