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09/22/2013 7:40 PM EDT
Braves grab NL East title, beat Cubs 5-2
ATLANTA 5, CHICAGO CUBS 2

By JAY COHEN
AP Sports Writer

CHICAGO (AP) -- The title was right there, across the front of
the soaked gray T-shirts that each of the Atlanta Braves wore.

"WE OWN THE EAST," it read.

The Braves wrapped up the NL East crown, and then rode two
homers by Andrelton Simmons to a 5-2 victory over the Chicago
Cubs that touched off a wild party in the cramped visitors'
clubhouse at Wrigley Field.

The game was in the sixth inning when Washington lost 4-2 to
Miami, giving the Braves their first division championship in
eight years. There were a few high-fives in Atlanta's dugout
when the Marlins won, and a couple of Braves fans did the
tomahawk chop in the stands.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez high-fived a fan as he made his way to
the dugout after a lineup change, and the celebration really
picked up when Craig Kimbrel finished for his major league-best
49th save. The Braves poured out of the dugout and bullpen and
jumped in a circle near the mound at the 99-year-old ballpark.

"What a great feeling," Gonzalez said. "It really is a great
feeling to realize we've played 150-some games to get to this
point. We knew early on that the Nationals had lost but we still
wanted to be able to celebrate and come out with a win. And we
did."

The Braves sprayed bubbly and doused each other with beer in the
clubhouse. Cigars were passed around, and the smoke quickly
filled the small room. A couple of players took a quick break to
check on their fantasy football teams, and then re-joined the
party.

"This is only one celebration of four, hopefully," slugger
Freddie Freeman said.

Simmons hit a solo drive in the fourth and a two-run shot in the
eighth, giving him 17 homers on the year.

Simmons' second career multihomer game was more than enough run
support for Julio Teheran (13-8), who struck out seven over six
innings of one-run ball.

The Cubs had a chance to tie it when they put runners on second
and third with two outs in the fifth, but Teheran managed to
escape the jam despite a solid at-bat by Starlin Castro. Teheran
needed 11 pitches to get Castro for a swinging strikeout,
preserving Atlanta's 3-1 lead.

"We have a lot of close games and we just haven't been able to
come back or rally at home," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.

Freeman also hit a two-run homer for the Braves, who have won
three of four. Freeman went got three hits and is batting .356
(26 for 73) with six homers and 17 RBIs in his last 20 games.

Freeman went deep in the first against Edwin Jackson (8-17), who
allowed three runs and eight hits in six-plus innings. The
right-hander leads the majors with 17 losses in his first season
with the Cubs.

"I kind of feel like I got beat with two pitches," Jackson said,
"moreso the slider 1-2 (to Simmons) than the fastball by
Freeman."

Atlanta is headed to the playoffs for the second straight year
and third time in four seasons. But it's the first division
title for the Braves since 2005, when they won 90 games and then
lost to Houston in the division series.

The Braves were the NL's top wild card a year ago, trying to
make one more playoff run for Chipper Jones in the third
baseman's final season. Those hopes were quickly dashed when
they committed three errors in a 6-3 home loss to St. Louis in
their only game of the 2012 postseason.

"We know last year what happened," Simmons said. "We played
pretty good but not good enough and we had to deal with a
one-game playoff thing. It's definitely a different feeling.

"Now we know we've got some time, we've got some games to work
with. We've got a little bit of time to rest our players."

The only question now is home-field advantage throughout the NL
playoffs, with Atlanta, Los Angeles and St. Louis in the mix for
the league's best record.

It's quite the accomplishment for Gonzalez and the Braves, who
were beset by injuries for much of the year. Veteran catcher
Brian McCann missed the first month following offseason shoulder
surgery. The outfield of Jason Heyward and brothers Justin and
B.J. Upton all missed time. Second baseman Dan Uggla had eye
surgery and pitcher Tim Hudson broke his right ankle in July,
shelving the right-hander for the rest of the season.

Atlanta kept going the way it often does - with outstanding
pitching. Teheran, Mike Minor and Kris Medlen helped anchor the
rotation, while Kimbrel led the Braves' shutdown bullpen, which
overcame injuries to left-handers Jonny Venters and Eric
O'Flaherty to once again be among the majors' best relief corps.

Of course, the lineup had its share of key performances. Freeman
blossomed into one of the majors' best first basemen, unheralded
rookie Evan Gattis stepped up and Chris Johnson proved to be a
more than adequate replacement for Jones at third. The
free-swinging Braves lead the NL with 177 homers and are among
the league leaders in strikeouts as well.

Long after it was over, Gonzalez took his cigar out to the field
and took some pictures of the scoreboard. The sprinklers came on
as he walked back to the dugout, but he didn't seem to mind one
bit.

It was quite a fun day.

"You want to clinch at home in front of your fans, but if you
can't I think clinching in one of these stadiums - Wrigley or
Fenway - one of those old traditional-type ballparks would be
second-best," Gonzalez said.

NOTES: The Braves went 5-1 against the Cubs this season ...
Minor (13-7, 3.19 ERA) is slated to face Milwaukee RHP Marco
Estrada (6-4, 4.26 ERA) when the Braves return home to open a
three-game series against the Brewers on Monday. ... Cubs RHP
Jeff Samardzija (8-12, 4.42 ERA) faces Pirates RHP Charlie
Morton (7-4, 3.35 ERA) on Monday in the opener of a three-game
series at Wrigley.

---

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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