ATLANTA (AP) – The Atlanta Braves tried to hold off the celebration. It didn’t work.

The Braves wrapped up their 14th straight division championship Tuesday night while playing the Colorado Rockies, the NL East title assured midway through the game when the second-place Phillies lost to the New York Mets.

Clinching in style, Marcus Giles hit a pair of homers, Adam LaRoche also homered and the Braves routed the Rockies 12-3.

Still, the way it worked out was a bit strange.

The Braves had just finished off a four-run fifth inning, giving them a 7-1 lead, when Philadelphia’s Bobby Abreu struck out to complete a 3-2 loss to the Mets.

A smattering of fans apparently learned of the Phillies’ loss via cell phone or other means, clapping as soon as 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.

Atlanta became the second team to clinch a title, following the NL Central champion St. Louis Cardinals.

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

After Pena came through with a bases-loaded triple, pushing the lead to 12-3, 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.

In the clubhouse, meanwhile, workers iced down the champagne and covered the lockers in plastic.

The Braves overcame all sorts of adversity to do what they always do – win the NL 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 rookies Jeff Francoeur and Ryan Langerhans. The 21-year-old Francoeur has emerged as one of baseball’s most dynamic young players.

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 wrapped things up for the Braves. 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.

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.

AP-ES-09-27-05 2314EDT


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