Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Braves Clinch NL East

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Braves Clinch NL East

Article excerpt

CHICAGO --

The Atlanta Braves franchise played 1,292 regular-season games between division titles and the team that finally ended the drought not only wasn't favored to overtake Washington when this season began, but also absorbed repeated blows and season-ending surgeries along the way.

All the better, they said.

The 2013 Braves are National League East champions after clinching the title Sunday when the Marlins beat the second-place Nationals. At the time, the Braves were still in the sixth inning of a 5-2 win against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

"It's an amazing feeling," said catcher Brian McCann, the only current Braves position player on the last Atlanta division-title team in 2005, along with injured pitcher Tim Hudson. "Time flies. You can't take things for granted. This feeling right here is what you play for."

If overcoming adversity has become a cliche uttered by too many teams that didn't overcome much at all, it's genuine with this team. The Braves overcame again and again, which made it sweeter when they completed the first of their goals.

"It's unbelievable," said first baseman Freddie Freeman, who staked the Braves to a 2-0 lead in the first inning Sunday with his 23rd home run, giving him 105 RBIs. "This is just one of four (celebrations) hopefully."

Three more would mean they won the World Series. And if that sounds far-fetched to some pundits, the Braves know most people didn't pick them to win the division even before their string of injuries left a young team even younger.

"It's awesome, something to be proud of," said Hudson, who's recovering from a broken ankle, but smoked a cigar and got drenched with teammates in a champagne-and-beer spraying celebration inside a cramped Wrigley Field clubhouse. "What we've gone through as a team this year, guys stepping up for guys like myself and (Jason) Heyward and different people that's gotten hurt throughout the season, it's a sign of a championship-caliber club.

"I feel like when you have a group of guys that are really good, it doesn't really matter how young you are." Third baseman Chris Johnson: "People have gone down and people have stepped up. So yeah, it definitely makes it a lot more enjoyable."

The Braves had six season-ending surgeries, losing three key members of their pitching staff and a big piece of their bench in Ramiro Pena. Yet they never wavered, leading the division for all but one day, building a 15-game lead by early August, then hanging on as injuries mounted.

"That's why we play this game, to have that opportunity to get to the World Series," closer Craig Kimbrel said. "Bottom line: that's why we play. And it is exciting to know that we're going to have that."

Freeman said persevering made the division title more satisfying and should also benefit the Braves in October. …

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