By Joe Lemire
October 12, 2010

ATLANTA -- The Giants were halfway on their trek from the mound to the clubhouse to continue their series-clinching celebration when the noise from the crowd became too loud to ignore.

The chants of "Bob-by! Bob-by!", had persisted, accompanied by a video montage on the scoreboard -- a tribute to retiring Bobby Cox, who had just finished managing the 4,641st major-league game of his career, a 3-2 loss to the Giants in Game 4 of the National League Division Series -- when the Turner Field fans grew louder as they were treated to an appearance and wave from the man of the hour.

The Giants, who even at the height of their euphoria, the franchise's first playoff series win since 2002, stopped and redirected their attention to the first-base dugout and added their own applause. Cox in turn tipped his cap and saluted the Giants, who now advance to face the Phillies in the National League Championship Series.

For a moment the congratulations coexisted before Cox descended the dugout steps for the final time as uniformed personnel, to the warm embrace of his players.

Back in the clubhouse, Cox began to address the Braves, to thank them for their service.

"The best I could," Cox said at his press conference of his attempt. "Told them I was really proud of them." He paused, leaned back in his chair and rubbed his left hand over his chin as tears welled up.

He regained his composure. "A grown man shouldn't do this."

Then Cox did something inexplicable: He reverted to talking about the lost game of that night, without the prompting of another question.

"But I can't say enough about Derek Lowe," Cox said, his voice growing livelier again. "He's going to be a 20-game winner next year, I think, if he gets any support at all."

He continued from there, discussing how his starting pitcher had worked long and hard with his pitching coach to adjust their game plan. Here he was, a retiring legend, addressing reporters who came to hear him talk one final time as Braves manager and doing so in a room where the exhilarating yells of the Giants could be heard in the background, and yet he was deflecting attention onto others.

It was classic Bobby.

The ultimate players' manager was retiring in the same way he spent his Hall of Fame career -- trying to improve the Braves.

"It's always about winning the game," said first-base coach Glenn Hubbard, who played or coached for Cox for 22 years. "And it's always been about winning the game."

On Monday night, the Giants won the game with a late rally sparked by timely hitting that was mostly absent for the Braves this series. After San Francisco rightfielder Cody Ross and Atlanta catcher Brian McCann traded solo home runs, the Braves led 2-1 in the top of the seventh when a combination of walk, single, walk, run-scoring error and RBI single from Ross put the Giants up 3-2, the lead they'd hold onto.

The Giants received their fourth straight quality start, this time from the rookie Madison Bumgarner, who got the win after throwing six innings of two-run ball. That starting pitching offers hope they'll be able to contend with the surging Phillies, whose potent offense this year has been joined by their best pitching staff, one headed by Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.

San Francisco's bullpen turned its first scoreless performance, as Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Brian Wilson finished the Braves, who had two runners on with two outs in the ninth before Melky Cabrera grounded out to end the game.

That was the baseball Cox wanted to talk about after the game even if most of the questions were about the end of his tenure, and so he alternated between postgame manager -- all he's known for the better part of the past three decades -- and a legend set to retire.

The first question he received was, "How did that feel at the end?" Without missing a beat, the manager launched into a game summary.

"We played a really good ballgame," Cox said. "And Derek pitched great, I thought. And we got the groundballs -- they were just out of reach. We wanted this game big time to get back to San Francisco [for Game 5]. It just didn't happen. The balls were just out of reach for us, turning double plays."

Only then did he allow any sentiment to enter his answer, "I'm proud of the team. I told them that a while ago. They've come a long ways with this team. They played their hearts out, and I'll miss them."

The players said Cox didn't get far into his closed-door postgame remarks.

"He tried," veteran catcher David Ross said. "I think everybody in the here was emotional. A man like that tried to pour his heart out and couldn't -- there aren't enough good things to say about Bobby Cox."

This 2010 Braves team was about as fitting a tribute to Cox as one could find. They lost nine straight at the end of April but quickly rallied to first place. Even after they lost Chipper Jones and Martin Prado to injury, the Braves coasted along the best they could, managing to sneak into the playoffs with a final-week push.

In the postseason, however, their weaknesses were evident. The bullpen, which was pitching without Billy Wagner, who was injured in Game 2, blew leads in Games 3 and 4. The offense, only average with a healthy lineup, couldn't muster much offense without Jones or Prado.

"He's never panicked in my years with him as a coach," Hubbard said. "When we started off, we lost nine in a row, and he didn't panic. That's what I've learned from him as a coach: When you're caught in the undertow, you just keep swimming along until you get back to shore."

Even his handling of Brooks Conrad the past two days spoke volumes of who Cox has been. After Conrad made eight errors in seven games -- including three that played a key role in Atlanta's Game 3 loss -- Cox was so honest and supportive of his player that Conrad was singing Cox's praises in a brief meeting with reporters before Game 4.

"That [communication] is why he's one of the greatest managers," Conrad said.

This season was an appropriate case study of what made Bobby Cox the Atlanta institution he became, for more than just the 2,504 regular-season wins, 15 division titles (including 14 consecutively with the Braves) and one World Series championship.

"This year's remarkable what he did," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "I know how banged up they were all year. Got off to a slow start. Shows you what a genius this man is to get it back on track and to get to the playoffs. ... I'm going to miss this man, again, because I venerate him so much."

At the end of the day it was about winning for Cox. But how he won mattered, too.

"I just loved being with him," Hubbard said.

Cox will remain with the Braves on a five-year consulting contract, but he won't be in uniform -- cleats, stirrups and everything -- and thus this era of the franchise is over.

But it was something everyone could celebrate.

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