Braves 6, Mets 3
ATLANTA (AP)—Bobby Cox tried to treat it like any other day. No one else would let him.
As soon as the final out was made, John Smoltz flashed a smile toward the dugout. Cox’s coaches swarmed around him, shaking hands and patting him on the back. When Cox finally made it onto the field, every player lined up to give him a hug.
“Bobby! Bobby! Bobby!” the fans chanted.
“2000” flashed on the scoreboard over and over again.
“I’ve had a lot of luck,” Cox said with typical modesty. “I’ve been in the right place at the right time. We’ve had a lot of great talent here. You’ve got to have that to win on a consistent basis.”
His players know better. At age 63, Cox has done one of the his best managing jobs, guiding a team that lost four key players to its 13th straight division title.
“You can look at the standings and say, ‘Oh, they’re supposed to be there,”’ said Smoltz, who got the final three outs for his 43rd save. “We’re not supposed to be here. We’ve had an incredible year, and he’s the reason.”
Of the eight managers who previously reached 2,000 wins, seven are in the Hall of Fame. The lone exception is Tony La Russa, still managing the St. Louis Cardinals.
In 23 seasons, Cox’s overall record is 2,000-1,530. That doesn’t even include 63 postseason wins, second only to Joe Torre in baseball history.
The only blemish on Cox’s record: In 14 trips to the playoffs (13 with the Braves, one with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1985), he’s captured only one World Series championship.
“I hope we have a great playoff,” Cox said. “That’s more important for sure.”
Smoltz is the only holdover from the 1991 team, which started the streak of division titles. Allowing himself to reminisce for just a moment, Cox said he wished that all his former players could still be around to share No. 2,000.
“That’s what I miss, the guys who were here before,” Cox said. “You know, once they’re gone, they’re gone. You don’t see ‘em much anymore.”
One of those ex-Braves, pitcher Tom Glavine, watched the game from the New York dugout. He planned to give Cox a congratulatory phone call.
“You have to be a good manager, you have to have good ballclubs and you have to have to stick around for a long time,” said Glavine, who left the Braves after the 2002 season. “Bobby has obviously met all those criteria. He’s a special guy.”
The Braves broke a 2-all tie in the seventh. Andruw Jones doubled in the go-ahead run, and 46-year-old Julio Franco—one of Cox’s favorite players— drove in another with a pinch-hit single off Eric Heilman (1-3).
“It’s just a privilege to be a part of it,” Giles said. “A lot of people are going to be sitting home tonight, watching TV … and saying, ‘Geez, Bobby Cox has 2,000 wins.’ I can say I was on the field for it.”
Russ Ortiz (15-9) gave up two runs in the first but showed signs of snapping out of his slump with seven solid innings. The right-hander won for only the second time in 10 starts.
Before the game, Cox shrugged off questions about No. 2,000 and insisted that the focus remain on his playoff-bound team. He fretted over pitcher Jaret Wright’s sore ankle and looked ahead to an important weekend series against the Chicago Cubs.
But Cox’s players say it’s about time he got some acknowledgment.
During the last offseason, Atlanta lost four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux and sluggers Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez and Vinny Castilla because of budget cuts. Many prognosticators had the Braves finishing no higher than third in the NL East.
After lingering around .500 for the first three months, Atlanta took control of the division race in July and August, wrapping up another division title last week.
Cox has been manager of the year twice before, but not since leading the Braves from worst-to-first in 1991.
“If he doesn’t win it this year, he never will,” Chipper Jones said.
“It’s either him or a genie,” Smoltz added.
Ortiz had pitched terribly in his previous nine starts, going 1-4 with a 7.33 ERA and casting doubts on his place in Atlanta’s playoff rotation. Last year, he was a 21-game winner and the team’s No. 1 postseason starter.
“The biggest thing for me was to put in a good performance today and get my confidence back,” Ortiz said, “and know the team is getting back its confidence in me.”