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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Road to final playoffs appears scripted for retiring Cox


ATLANTA -- Yes, he was yelling.

You know he was yelling.

"I was arguing with the umpire on every pitch," Bobby Cox said.

Arguing with the umpire at the Giants-Padres game in San Francisco. Arguing with the umpire who was 3,000 miles away.

Bobby Cox will make his last postseason appearance the same way he entered his first -- with a Giants win in 1991. (AP)  
Bobby Cox will make his last postseason appearance the same way he entered his first -- with a Giants win in 1991. (AP)  
"Yeah, a 3,000-mile ejection," Cox said.

Except that this time, Bobby Cox didn't get thrown out. This time, he got thrown in, thrown back into the postseason for one last time.

One last, record-setting 16th time.

He got there because his Braves finally got a win over the Phillies Sunday. He got there because the Giants helped out the Braves by finally beating the Padres.

He managed the Braves against the Phillies the way he managed all those 4,507 other major-league games, managed it with his heart and with his voice.

"You can hear him above the crowd," Braves closer Billy Wagner said. "Even as loud as it was out there, every pitch, you could hear, he's yelling that it was a strike."

Yelling at 4:31 p.m. Sunday, when Wagner struck out Greg Dobbs for the final out that beat the Phillies.

Yelling 2½ hours later, when Giants closer Brian Wilson struck out Will Venable for the final out that eliminated the Padres.

The first win guaranteed that the Braves' season wouldn't end without another game. The second win guaranteed that Cox and the Braves return to the playoffs for the first time in five years.

It was a different way to clinch, winning and then waiting. But in a way it was fitting, because Cox's first Braves playoff berth was clinched the same way back in 1991, winning and then waiting on the Giants to win a game in San Francisco.

It was fitting, too, because this final Cox team has made such a habit of waiting until the last minute. Of their 91 wins, a major-league high 25 came in the last at-bat. Even Sunday, when they took a six-run lead over the Phillies, it was tense at the end before the Braves held on at 8-7.

"This is kind of our personality," said Tim Hudson, the comeback ace who won Sunday for the 17th time this year. "We fight and claw to the end. We do the best we can."

It's a personality that suits Cox well, one that he admits to enjoying as much as he's enjoyed any team.

More on Playoffs

"Well, we try hard," he said. "This team is the hardest-working, hardest-trying team since we've been here."

There were plenty of times in the last couple of weeks that they didn't look like a playoff team. There were plenty of times in the last weekend that they looked nothing like a playoff team.

There were times when even Cox wondered if Sunday would be the final day of his 29-year career, a depressing, empty final day.

"I always worry," he said. "You worry every second of the season."

And you never worry more than when you feel like something is out of your control. By beating the Phillies Sunday, the Braves knew that they had done what they could, that they had guaranteed their season wouldn't end but not that it would end with a true playoff berth.

Had the Padres beaten the Giants, baseball would have had a three-way tie for the NL West and wild-card spots, a tie that might have thrilled neutrals but would have left the Braves and their manager (and the Padres and the Giants) on edge for another couple of days.

So the Braves stayed in their clubhouse to watch the West Coast game on television, stayed as a few thousand fans listened to a postgame REO Speedwagon concert and watched the Padres and Giants.

"It's almost like managing [another] game," Cox said. "Your stomach is still turning."

It was a little like 1991, but that was different, because that day the Giants game with the Dodgers was nearly over when the Braves won their game with the Astros. This time, the Braves watched and cheered for seven innings.

"It was real weird rooting for another big-league team," first baseman Derrek Lee said.

And now it's even weirder, because Thursday night the Braves open the playoffs in San Francisco, against that team they just spent 2½ hours cheering as loudly as they could.

"Now we don't like them," Lee said with a smile. "Well, we'll like them until Thursday."

And Cox will keep liking this team, for another week and probably for the rest of his life.

"We should be here [in the playoffs]," he said. "I'd have been disappointed if we didn't make it."

He also, one more time, took pains to avoid taking credit.

"Any manager could have managed this team," Cox said.

His players will tell you that's not true. His ex-players, so many of whom made it back to Atlanta for Bobby Cox Day on Saturday, will tell you that's not true.

Brooks Conrad will tell you. The third-string third baseman, the one who made killer errors in the Braves' losses Friday and Saturday, arrived at the park Sunday to find that Cox had moved him back to second base, his natural position.

"I don't think he's slept in two days," a sympathetic Cox said in explaining the move.

"I didn't [sleep]," Conrad admitted, after getting two of the Braves' hits Sunday, and driving in the run that tied the game at 2-2 in the fourth.

Cox understood, the way he has always understood his players. He managed Sunday the way he has managed so many other games. He acted Sunday morning like he has acted so many other Sunday mornings, chatting casually with visitors even as the clock on his career seemed to tick down.

At one point, his phone rang. It was a question about the postgame party Cox had planned for some friends, the 36 people who were supposed to come to his house when Sunday's Braves game ended.

"We win, we might stick around," he said, knowing that a Braves win would make a late-day, coast-to-coast clinch possible. "Got anyone to pick up the ribs?"

That's Bobby Cox, just like yelling at the umpires is Bobby Cox.

And just like managing a team to the playoffs is Bobby Cox.

One last time, he's done it again.


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