Title critics have Cox 'irritated'; Braves manager defends record; Wren is lauded; NLCS notebook


NEW YORK -- Time is running short for the National League's "Team of the Decade," but Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox is losing patience with the notion that his team's consistent performance in the '90s is tarnished because it includes only one world title.

"There's always something to pick on," Cox said before last night's Game 4 against the New York Mets. "No matter how good your team is, somebody is going to pick on some part of it. That's the part they pick on us, I guess.

"We have been to a lot of World Series [four this decade]. We've played great baseball in almost every World Series. Probably didn't play as good in the one that we won [1995]. We're proud of what we've done. They always ask that, though. It is irritating, to be honest with you."

General manager John Schuerholz agrees. No team in the last 40 years has run up a comparable string of postseason appearances. "If that's so easy," Schuerholz said, "why have we played so many different teams in the postseason? Eight times in a row. That's a great tribute to Bobby and the organization."

Sorry, Rickey

Mets manager Bobby Valentine said he apologized to left fielder Rickey Henderson for the way he pulled him out after he had taken the field in the eighth inning.

"I sent a kid [Melvin Mora] out to left field whose been in the big leagues for less than a year to tell him he had to come out of the game," said Valentine.

Piazza back in there

New York catcher Mike Piazza was back in the starting lineup the night after suffering what the Mets medical staff termed a "slight concussion" and getting dinged up by a series of foul tips.

"When I woke up, there was a little whiplash and a little soreness," said Piazza, who went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. "But this is a playoff game and the adrenaline has a way of taking over."

Rocker still rocking

Despite the disapproval of his manager and some teammates, reliever John Rocker continued to spar with Mets fans last night, standing on the top step of the dugout and trading barbs with them before the game.

He was asked whether it might be time for a change in behavior.

"Why? It's working, ain't it?" said Rocker, before yielding a two-run single in the eighth inning. "The only thing I'm changing is my clothes after I get champagne all over them tonight."

Future shock

Somebody asked Schuerholz about his plans for the team in the off-season, but he isn't ready to focus on the future just yet.

"I haven't given one thought to that," he said, "but the business of baseball will slap you in the face as soon as this is over. We have a number of players coming up [for negotiations]. As soon as Frank Wren gets here, I'll know who they are."

More on Wren

Schuerholz continues to be effusive about assistant GM Wren, but will not comment on his firing in Baltimore.

"I actually don't know that much about what went on there," said Schuerholz, a native Baltimorean. "I just observed him and knew of the work he did. The ink wasn't dry on his firing when I picked up the phone.

"I'm delighted that he's available and part of our organization. Frank is one of the most talented and respected executives in our business."

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