Braves ride an emotional high into the postseason

After watching the Braves will their way to an 8-7 win over the Phillies Sunday, and having stuck around to see the Giants win and assure that retiring Bobby Cox would see another postseason, the rowdy fans wanted him hoisted.

But wait. This is a 69-year-old man, with artificial knees. The Braves wouldn’t dare try to get him off his feet in the middle of a swirling celebration. Would they?

With David Ross orchestrating and players like Jason Heyward, Matt Diaz and even the not-exactly-hulking Tim Hudson, doing the heavy lifting, the Braves got a smiling, blushing manager off his feet.

The Braves didn’t get to this point by playing it cautious. They won’t start now, as they enter the playoffs Thursday in San Francisco.

The Braves enter the Division Series as one of two wild card teams and maybe the least intimidating of the eight teams alive in the postseason. Not that it worries them.

“Everybody starts equal,” Braves reliever Peter Moylan said.

They’ve gone 14-16 since the first of September. They’ve lost a middle of the order hitter (Martin Prado), a middle of the rotation pitcher (Jair Jurrjens) and two key set-up men (Eric O’Flaherty and Takashi Saito) to injuries, just in the past three weeks.

They were manhandled for much of the weekend by the NL East-winning Phillies, who proved even in their tune-ups too much for the Braves. Five of the seven runs the Phillies drove in Sunday were from reserves. Their first two pitchers in the series – who allowed only two runs in 10 innings -- won’t even be in the Phillies’ rotation in the Division Series against the Reds.

But the Braves got the one win they needed and to 91 on the season.

“Nobody is going to give us a chance in any of the rest of the series we play from here on out,” said the injured Chipper Jones, who’ll be missing the first playoff series of his career. “We’ve just got to go out and prove people wrong.”

What the Braves do have working for them is three starting pitchers who are hot entering the playoffs. Derek Lowe, the Braves likely Game 1 starter, went 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in September to win National League pitcher of the month, which was announced Monday. Hudson has found a second-wind, winning a key start against the Marlins on three days’ rest Tuesday and finishing strong to take the win Sunday.

Tommy Hanson has been gutsy, allowing one run in his last three starts. And overall, the Braves’ team ERA of 3.49 for the month of September is third among the playoff teams.

“Pitching and defense, man, that’s how you overcome it,” Hudson said of recent injuries. “If we go out there and pitch like we feel like we can and make the plays and do whatever it takes to score runs, we’re going to pose some problems for people.”

The other problems they pose don’t show up in statistics. This team has ridden an underlying emotion from the first day of spring training, through 25 final at-bat wins, right up to the ninth inning Sunday when closer Billy Wagner thrust both arms in the air.

These are not your buttoned-down Braves, who have played for Cox his last season.

More than an hour after the Giants had beat the Padres, and most of the media, family and friends had cleared out of the clubhouse, Cox wandered back in. Techno-music was blaring, beer and champagne-soaked players were still dancing, and pitching coach Roger McDowell had found his way to a light switch, flickering locker lights to give it almost a night club feel.

Cox turned to a Braves staffer beside him and said, “This might be the best celebration we’ve ever had.”

The Braves head into the postseason, looking for more ways to lift him up.

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