ATLANTA – Nothing has come easy for the Braves, whose 25 final-at-bat victories are the most in baseball. So perhaps it was fitting the Braves were pushed to the last day of the season before claiming a postseason berth.
Atlanta reached the playoffs as the NL wild-card team, a first for manager Bobby Cox, after taking a six-run lead and then holding on for an 8-7 win over Philadelphia on Sunday.
"I knew all along today would be the day," Chipper Jones said. "We've waited until the last minute all year. It makes perfect sense to show up and get it done on the last day."
Tim Hudson said the key was reaching the playoffs with Cox, who is retiring.
"This being Bobby's last year, losing today was not an option," Hudson said.
The Braves couldn't celebrate until San Francisco beat San Diego 3-0, giving the Braves the NL wild card by one game over the Padres. The players sprayed champagne in the clubhouse and then took the celebration outside. Cox was doused again and lifted onto their shoulders.
"We fought and we fought and we fought," Hudson said of the 91-win season that included a nine-game losing streak in April and season-ending injuries to Jones, Martin Prado and Kris Medlen. "I know there's not a team in this league that's got more heart than us."
Atlanta will start the playoffs Thursday at NL West champion San Francisco.
The Braves won 14 straight division titles with Cox but had missed the playoffs since 2005. The only World Series title came in 1995, when Jones was a rookie, but he's been a part of most of the postseason success with Cox.
"It's an awful lot of fun just to see the young kids go through it," Jones said, watching his younger teammates celebrate for the first time. "It's awesome."
"This is what it's all about," said closer Billy Wagner, who struck out the side in the ninth. "You play all year long and it comes down to the last game and you get the champagne shower."
There was a postgame REO Speedwagon concert at Turner Field, and a few hundred fans remained after the concert to watch the Giants' win on the video board. They chanted and cheered after the final out as bubbly was sprayed in the Braves clubhouse.
"We try hard," Cox said. "This team is the hardest-working, hardest-trying team we've ever had here."
Cox's final regular-season record was 2,504-2,001. He ranks fourth in wins, trailing only Connie Mack (3,776), John McGraw (2,840) and Tony La Russa (2,638). This is Cox's 15th season with 90 or more wins, second only to McGraw.
Cox also had 158 regular-season ejections, easily surpassing McGraw (117) for the most among managers. He joked he was trying for No. 159 when watching on TV as the Giants beat the Padres in San Francisco.
"I was arguing with the umpire on every pitch," Cox said. "It could have been a 3,000-mile ejection."
Hudson (17-9) allowed four runs and two hits in seven innings against the NL East champions, giving up two-run homers by John Mayberry in the third and Jayson Werth in the seventh.
Wagner, who like Cox is retiring after the season, earned his 37th save in 44 chances.
"It's a relief because you get a tomorrow," Wagner said. "We knew we had to win the game. We knew what was at stake."
Omar Infante and embattled infielder Brooks Conrad each had two hits and drove in two runs for Atlanta, and Lee homered.
"The bats came alive, which was great to see," Cox said. "We had much better hitting than we've had lately."
The Phillies, hoping for a successful warmup before their postseason run and potentially a third straight World Series appearance, had two injury scares.
Catcher Carlos Ruiz left after he was hit by a pitch on his left elbow in the third inning, though X-rays were negative. Left-hander J.C. Romero walked slowly off the field with left lower back soreness following a pitch in the sixth. He said he already had soreness and expects to be available for the playoffs.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel used his starting lineup.
"We thought we'd give our best to the Braves," he said. "We came back and we had a chance."