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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

End of an era: Braves cut ties with center fielder Andruw Jones

After a disappointing and unproductive 2007 campaign, it will be difficult for Jones to receive the hefty contract that he's seeking.

By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
October 2, 2007

The Atlanta Braves are cutting ties with Andruw Jones, saying they can't afford to keep the perennial Gold Glove center fielder who's spent his entire career with the organization.

General manager John Schuerholz announced the decision Tuesday, shortly after breaking the news to Jones during a one-on-one meeting at Turner Field.

While hoping to stay in Atlanta, Jones wasn't caught off-guard by the team's stance. He made $13.5 million this season and was looking for a hefty raise despite slumping badly.

"I'm fine with it," Jones told The Associated Press when reached on his cell phone. "I'm appreciative of the chance they gave me to play for Atlanta all these years. I understand the decision they have to make. That's just the way it is. It's a business."

Indeed, the move was not unexpected as the 30-year-old Jones batted only .222 in the final season of his $75 million contract. He's eligible to file for free agency after the World Series.

"It just doesn't work for us," Schuerholz said. "It doesn't demean or diminish everything he's done, and I thank him for all his contributions. We all will have fond memories of him."

The Braves plan to use the money they'll save on Jones to bolster their starting rotation -- a glaring weakness beyond John Smoltz and Tim Hudson -- and to sign first baseman Mark Teixeira, who made $9 million this year and is eligible for arbitration.

Still, it was the end of an era in Atlanta. Jones first joined the Braves as a 19-year-old, hitting two homers in his first World Series game at Yankee Stadium in 1996. He has been one of the game's greatest defensive outfielders, winning nine straight Gold Gloves with his diving catches and over-the-wall grabs in center.

Jones would have preferred to stay with the Braves, but the team had no serious talks with his agent, Scott Boras.

"I thought there would be some negotiation or something," Braves right fielder Jeff Francoeur told the AP. "I guess that's what's so weird, that it happened so quick. It's obviously sad when you lose a teammate and good friend.

Jones was one of the game's top sluggers in 2005-06, combining for 92 homers and 257 RBIs, but his production tailed off dramatically this season. He fell to his worst average since becoming a full-time starter in 1997, with 26 homers and 94 RBIs.

Schuerholz said the team got an offer from Boras last December but quickly realized it was far more than anything they would consider.

Boras withdrew the offer, believed to be in the $20-million-a-year range, over the summer when the Braves never responded, Schuerholz said.

"What that did was to signal what we could fully expect," the GM said. Asked how much Boras was asking for, Schuerholz held his right hand over his head. "I can't reach that high," he quipped.

"It was so far removed from what we could even consider doing," Schuerholz added.

Jones is only the latest longtime Braves player to cut ties with Atlanta, following Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Javy Lopez. Once one of baseball's highest-spending teams under Ted Turner, the Braves cut their budget in recent years and went through a change in corporate owners.

"We have to use our assets in the most effective way to put the best 25 people on the field," Schuerholz said.

Jones spent much of the year preparing to play elsewhere in 2008.

"I've been telling people this for a long time," he said. "It's a business. You can't take it to heart. I just have to move on and start with a new team."

When it comes to contract matters, Schuerholz normally deals only with a player's agent. But he decided to call in Jones for a face-to-face meeting.

"It was appropriate for Andruw," Schuerholz said. "He deserved that."
Associated Press freelance writer Amy Jinkner-Lloyd contributed to this report.

Colorado 9, San Diego 8, 13 innings

Congratulations to the pesky and energetic Colorado Rockies.

October 2, 2007

DENVER (AP) -- They played as if they never wanted the season to end, and they had already gotten an extra day.

The NL wild card came down to a wild, 13-inning finish Monday night that put Matt Holliday and the Colorado Rockies into the playoffs and sent Trevor Hoffman and the San Diego Padres home weary and dazed.

Holliday raced home on Jamey Carroll's shallow fly ball, capping a three-run rally against the all-time saves leader, giving the Rockies a 9-8 win in baseball's longest one-game tiebreaker.
"It's been an incredible run from game 1 to game 163," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "This is just a snapshot of what we've been through."

After Scott Hairston's two-run homer put the Padres ahead in the top of the 13th, Colorado came back against Hoffman.

The Rockies won for the 14th time in 15 games and advanced to play at Philadelphia in the first round starting Wednesday.

Colorado trailed 8-6 when Kaz Matsui and Troy Tulowitzki, who had four hits, lined back-to-back doubles off Hoffman. Then Holliday tripled off the wall in right to tie it.
After Todd Helton was intentionally walked, Carroll lined out to right fielder Brian Giles.

Giles' throw home bounced in front of catcher Michael Barrett, who couldn't hold on as Holliday swiped the plate, then lay face-down after cutting his chin with his headfirst slide. Umpire Tim McClelland made a delayed safe call, and replays were inconclusive on whether Holliday touched the plate with his left hand or was blocked by Barrett's left foot.

Holliday said he wasn't sure if he touched the plate, although the ball bounced away anyway.

"The ump said I was safe," Holliday said. "I don't remember. But I hit my chin pretty good. I got stepped on and banged my chin. I'm all right."

Said Padres manager Bud Black: "It looked to me like he did get it."
While their MVP candidate was on the ground bleeding, the rest of the Rockies were celebrating.
Hoffman (4-5) could do little but walk off the mound with his head down. The closer, who has 524 career saves, blew his seventh chance in 49 tries this year.

On Saturday, Hoffman was one strike from clinching a playoff spot when Tony Gwynn Jr. hit a tying triple for Milwaukee, which went on to win 4-3 in 11 innings.

"I'm having a hard time expressing myself right now," Hoffman said. "I wish I could, but I can't after what happened tonight."

The Rockies won the longest game at Coors Field this season behind Holliday, the MVP candidate who clinched the NL batting title at .340. His triple also gave him the league RBI crown with 137, one more than Philadelphia's Ryan Howard.

It was sweet atonement for Holliday, who misplayed Giles' two-out flyball in the eighth inning into a tying RBI double.

"I'm glad we won or that might have haunted me for the rest of my life," Holliday said. "It worked out, and luckily I don't have to think about it."

Carroll entered as a pinch-runner in the seventh and stayed in to play third base. He got one hit before finding himself in position to hit the sacrifice fly that won it.

"I was just trying to get a ball up in the zone," Carroll said. "Had a guy at third. Matty did a great job. Matty ran his butt off. I am so happy that we get this opportunity to go on."

Ramon Ortiz (1-0) got the win. He was the Rockies' 10th pitcher, taking over after Jorge Julio gave up Hairston's homer.

"All we kept saying was 'hold 'em at two, hold 'em at two,"' Hurdle said.

The Rockies are headed to the playoffs for the first time since 1995, when they lost to Atlanta in the first round.

After stranding runners at second in the 10th, 11th and 12th off Matt Herges, the Padres broke through against Julio. Giles drew a leadoff walk and Hairston homered into the bleachers in left-center.

The Rockies didn't flinch.

Colorado and San Diego were tied at 6 in the first play-in game since the New York Mets beat Cincinnati 5-0 for the 1999 NL wild card.

In the bottom of the eighth, Holliday compounded his blunder in the field by stranding the go-ahead run at second when he whiffed against Health Bell, who relieved ineffective Padres ace Jake Peavy.

Manny Corpas went 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth, and Bell sent the game into extra innings by retiring the side in the bottom half, stranding the potential winning run at first base.

The big hit for Colorado earlier came from September callup Seth Smith, who tripled in the sixth and scored on Matsui's shallow sacrifice fly for a 6-5 lead.

Colorado went ahead 3-0 early only to watch Adrian Gonzalez erase the margin with his first career grand slam in a five-run third inning, which Peavy ignited with a single.

The Rockies came back to tie on Helton's 17th homer in the bottom half and Holliday's RBI single in the fifth off Peavy, who looked little like the Cy Young Award candidate he's been this season.

Peavy allowed six runs and 10 hits in 6 1-3 innings. He failed in his bid for his 20th win -- Boston's Josh Beckett was the only pitcher this year to achieve the feat.

Rockies starter Josh Fogg gave up five runs and eight hits in four-plus innings.

The Rockies won a franchise-best 90 games and are owners of the second-best record in the majors since mid-May.

Helton, the subject of trade rumors last winter, is heading to the postseason for the first time in his 11-year career. His 1,578 games in the majors are the third-most by any active player without a playoff appearance.

"That's the best shower I ever had in my life," a drenched Helton said in the clubhouse. "I never knew champagne could feel so good."


The Rockies thought Garrett Atkins homered in the seventh, but umpire Tim Tschida ruled it hit the yellow railing and bounced back. Crew chief Ed Montague told The Associated Press all six umpires agreed "it hit the yellow pad and came back. The yellow pad was in play. (Hurdle) said it was over. But we looked at that and there's no way it went over." ... It was the first time San Diego had a two-run lead in extras and lost since June 13, 2004, when the Padres dropped a 6-5, 12-inning decision at Yankee Stadium, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

MLB shatters attendance record

By Jason Beck / MLB.com
Eight teams set franchise records, and 15 reported increases

For the fourth consecutive year, Major League Baseball has set a single-season attendance record, drawing nearly 80 million fans to games during the regular season.

The Commissioner's Office on Tuesday announced a final attendance tally of 79,502,524, a 4.5 percent increase over last year. The previous mark of 76,042,787 was broken with one week to go in the regular season, before pennant races and home finales pushed the total even higher.

Eight teams set franchise attendance records in 2007, and 15 others reported increases over last year. Ten teams drew more than three million fans, with the Detroit Tigers doing so for the first time in the franchise's 107-year history.

"The immensity of this record is staggering," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement, "and it serves as a perfect illustration of the passion and excitement for the game that exists across the Major League Baseball landscape. Our sport has reached heights that were unimaginable only a few years ago. By any measure, this is truly a golden age for Major League Baseball. I thank fans everywhere, and I share their enthusiasm for another memorable October."

Not only did baseball set a single-day attendance record -- with 717,478 total fans at games on July 28 -- but five of the top 15 single-day marks occurred this summer. Nearly 27 million tickets for the season were sold online at MLB.com, also establishing a single-season record.

The Tigers' mark was one of several set in the Midwest. The defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals sold out all 81 home games at the new Busch Stadium on their way to a record attendance total of 3,552,180. Cubs fans packed Wrigley Field again to watch their team rise to the National League Central Division title, drawing a record 3,252,462 in the process. Their chief division challenger, the Milwaukee Brewers, averaged more than 35,000 fans per game en route to a club-record 2,869,144.

Meanwhile, the stalwarts on the East Coast set their respective marks, too. The New York Yankees established a new American League record by drawing 4,271,083, an average of 52,729 per game, to Yankee Stadium. The Red Sox stretched their consecutive sellout streak to 388 straight games en route to receiving 2,970,755 fans at Fenway Park. The Mets' attendance of 3,853,937 was also a franchise record.

On the opposite coast, the Los Angeles Dodgers topped the National League for the fourth consecutive season with a franchise-record mark of 3,857,036, the highest total in the Senior Circuit since 1997. The Angels and San Francisco Giants also topped the 3 million mark, the Giants doing so for the eighth straight year.

In a statement, Major League Baseball credited the leaguewide popularity, in part, to competitive balance. No team finished the season with a winning percentage under .400 or above .600, and only the Red Sox and Indians topped the 95-win mark, each at 96-66.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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