The Atlanta Braves celebrate on the field after beating the Cubs on Sunday to clinch the NL East title. (Reuters)
CHICAGO — Jet streams of Champagne were sprayed indiscriminately and beer poured over almost anyone standing still as the Atlanta Braves celebrated in Wrigley Field’s tiny visitor’s clubhouse Sunday.
The Braves were on top of the world — or at least the National League East — after clinching their first division title since 2005.
The Miami Marlins actually did it for Atlanta, knocking the second-place Washington Nationals out of contention with a victory earlier in the day. However, the Braves didn’t want to back in, and they beat the Chicago Cubs 5-2 in the finale of a three-game series.
“We knew early on that the Nationals had lost, but we still wanted to celebrate and come out with a win, and we did,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “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.”
The Braves’ magic number was stuck at one until Sunday’s 4-2 loss by the Nationals, their closest East pursuer.
Braves starter Julio Teheran (13-8) worked six innings for the win on an sunny fall afternoon with a stiff breeze blowing in from right-center. He allowed one run on four hits while striking out seven and walking none.
Craig Kimbrel struck out three in the ninth for his 49th save.
Cubs starter Edwin Jackson (8-17) departed after facing one batter in the seventh. He gave up three runs on eight hits, struck out seven and didn’t issue a walk.
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman went 3-for-5, including a two-run homer. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons homered twice and collected three RBIs, and catcher Brian McCann went 2-for-4.
“I gave up a two-run homer to Freeman and a hanging slider (on a) 1-2 count on Simmons, and that pretty much sums up the day,” Jackson said. “I kind of got beat on two pitches.”
Cubs manager Dale Sveum said, “We battled, and I thought Jackson had one of the better games he’s pitched. He threw his curveball a lot, he threw his changeup more than he’s had all year, and obviously had a really good slider and command of his fastball.”
The playoff appearance is the Braves’ second straight. They were a wild-card qualifier in 2012.
“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.”
Freeman’s one-out home run in the first inning drove in Jason Heyward for a 2-0 Braves lead. Freeman slammed Jackson’s first pitch to right for his 23rd homer.
Anthony Rizzo collected his 39th double of the season with two outs in the first and scored on Dioner Navarro’s hit to right to make it 2-1 Braves.
Simmons made it 3-1 with a two-out solo home run into the wind. The ball landed in the basket lining the left field wall.
Simmons slammed a two-run shot to left in the eighth that scored McCann for a 5-1 lead. Simmons’ 17th long ball of the season gave him his second career multi-homer game.
The Cubs had runners at first and second in the ninth with one out and Brian Bogusevic, the potential tying run, at the plate. However, Kimbrel struck out Bogusevic and Junior Lake, and Braves players poured out of the dugout to begin the championship celebration.
The Braves were at-bat in the top of the sixth when the Marlins-Nationals game wrapped up. A small group of Braves fans applauded as the final result appeared on Wrigley Field’s manually operated scoreboard.
“I didn’t know whether to smile or cry,” Gonzalez said. “You don’t know what kind of feelings (to have) and you quickly brush those away and now you’ve got the task at hand and try to win the game.”
NOTES: Jackson’s 30th start Sunday made him one of five active pitchers with 30-plus starts over each of the past seven seasons. … Cubs SS Starlin Castro appeared in his 600th major league game. … Chicago’s Darwin Barney enters the season’s final week with just four errors and .993 fielding average, best among NL second basemen. … The Cubs send RHP Jeff Samardzija (8-12, 4.42 ERA) against Pirates RHP Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.35) on Monday to open the season’s final series at Wrigley Field. … Atlanta reached the postseason two other times since the 2005 division title, with wild-card appearances in 2010 and 2012. … Braves 3B Chris Johnson went 0-for-4 and lost the National League batting lead to Rockies OF Michael Cuddyer. Johnson is hitting .329, while Cuddyer has a .334 mark after going 3-for-5 Sunday. … Braves LHP Mike Minor goes against Milwaukee Brewers RHP Marco Estrada (6-4, 4.26 ERA) at Turner Field in the start of a three-game series Monday.