Validation. It is what the Atlanta Braves were after and what they got.
Appropriately, when it came Saturday night, when the team of the '90s dislodged the burden of never having won a World Series, that championship validation came in the form of a shutout, a dominating pitching performance.
Tom Glavine delivered it, allowing the Cleveland Indians, baseball's most powerful offensive team, one hit over eight innings of a 1-0 victory in Game 6.
It was a defining moment for a pitcher who has been through all of the good times and bad times of the '90s, a defining moment for a rotation that is what the Braves have been all about through three National League pennants and 454 regular-season victories over the last five years.
"This staff is as good as it gets," Glavine would say after the champagne had dried. "Not only is each of us capable of winning every game, but we're capable of doing it with a shutout.
"People would say, 'OK, not bad, but you've never won a championship.' Well, where does all that talk go from here? What do they say now?"
There was not much the Indians could say. Glavine shut them out and shut them up.
They had talked enough earlier to add to Glavine's motivation by suggesting it was all downhill after beating Greg Maddux in Game 5 and by saying the pressure was all on the Braves because they had already lost two World Series and carried the expectations of a team on a mission.
"All of that talk did motivate me even more than I was," Glavine said. "Not to take anything away from Greg Maddux, but I'll take my chances against any team and any pitcher, including Greg Maddux. I feel pretty good about what I've done and what I can do.
"We knew when we went up 3-1 [in the Series], that with Maddux, myself and John Smoltz, their chances of beating all three of us were pretty slim."
Smoltz would have pitched Game 7. He stood amid the champagne showers and talked about the mission, the attempt to correct the October failures, the "media attention and torture," the unfair perception "that you come out of the World Series as either champion or choker."
"This is something we should have accomplished a long time ago," he said, "and it was something we set out to do from the first day of training camp. For the nine guys who have been here through the '90s, for this group of 25, it was probably a last chance given the changing economics of baseball, and to finally experience this celebration is the ultimate emotion."
Mark Wohlers, who rode the triple-A shuttle at times but had also been one of the nine players with the club through most of the '90s, shared Smoltz's exhilaration.
It was Wohlers' long-anticipated development as a dominating closer that may have been the final piece of the Braves' puzzle this year. No longer did the Braves have to call on a committee of past-their-prime relievers or turn to a starter such as Charlie Liebrandt to try and retire Kirby Puckett or Dave Winfield at a pivotal October juncture.
When Glavine came up physically and emotionally spent after eight innings Saturday night and advised Manager Bobby Cox he couldn't go another inning, the flame-throwing Wohlers, having spent the entire game pacing between the dugout and clubhouse and bullpen to wear off his adrenaline and anxiety, came in to retire Kenny Lofton, Paul Sorrento and Carlos Baerga.
"Those people who said we can't win a championship can pick up their Atlanta Constitution tomorrow morning and eat the words," Wohlers said. "This was the most determined group of guys we've had here and the very best team."
It was validation for the 25 and validation for the manager, sometimes criticized strategically for doing too little, for being too laid back.
"We've always held our heads high, and I don't feel any differently now than after we lost in '91 or '92 except that I'm a little relieved, because the criteria for being considered a good manager is to win a World Series," Cox said. "I don't agree with that, but it's the way it is.
"I mean, one of the best managers I've ever seen never went to a World Series. Gene Mauch innovated things the rest of us collectively couldn't even think of but which we all use."
Cox organized a pregame meeting Saturday in response to the Indians' rhetoric and told his team to relax, to go out and silence the Tribe. Glavine took him literally, saying later he made no adjustments from his Game 2 start, when he went six inning on three hits with only a changeup working effectively.
"The only adjustment I made is that I pitched better," he said.
Indeed. Only a Tony Pena single in the sixth prevented a no-hitter. Validation for the Braves and a rotation that will ultimately "go down as one of the greatest ever," pitching coach Leo Mazzone said.
The pop of a champagne cork provided an exclamation point.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Five of the six games in the Series were decided by one run. A look at the key moment in each game:
GAME 1 (Braves 3, Indians 2)
* Bottom of the seventh: Indian pitcher Orel Hershiser removes himself after two walks. A squeeze by Rafael Belliard scores David Justice with the winning margin.
GAME 2 (Braves 4, Indians 3)
* Bottom of the sixth: Javier Lopez hits a two-run homer off Dennis Martinez.
GAME 3 (Indians 7, Braves 6, 11 innings)
* Bottom of the 11th: Eddie Murray singles to center off Alejandro Pena, scoring Alvaro Espinoza.
GAME 5 (Indians 5, Braves 4)
* Bottom of the sixth: Indians score two runs off Greg Maddux for a 4-2 lead.
GAME 6 (Braves 1, Indians 0)
* Bottom of the sixth: Dave Justice homers to right off Dennis Martinez.