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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS / AMERICAN LEAGUE

Cardinals, A's Do Their Business on the Road

National League: Edmonds homers, doubles in 7-1 victory that sweeps away stunned Braves.

October 08, 2000|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — The chant may have been heard from Atlanta to Anaheim on Saturday, carrying into distant living rooms at the start of another empty winter for the Angels.

In the jaded atmosphere of Turner Field, with the usual playoff array of empty seats, pockets of red-clad Cardinal fans brought it with them from St. Louis, echoing the Busch Stadium theme of MVP for every Jim Edmonds introduction and heroic.

In what became a division series demolition of the Braves, another October disappointment for a proud franchise, Edmonds turned the chant into a virtual recording.

The former Angel center fielder hit a two-run homer and doubled in another run as the Cardinals completed an improbable but convincing sweep of a team that won 95 games this year, 7-1.

They don't name an official most valuable player in the division series, but Edmonds was the de facto winner, which Mark McGwire underscored in the champagne-drenched Cardinal clubhouse when he whispered to Edmonds, "Hey, MVP is better than hitting 70, dude."

McGwire, of course, held the national spotlight with his home run dynamics the last two years, but now Edmonds has escaped the Anaheim shadows, put all of the slights--real and imagined--behind him, and stepped into that same spotlight with a vengeance.

Already considered their own MVP by the Central Division champions, Edmonds hit .571 in the division series with two home runs and four doubles among his eight hits. He set a series record for doubles and extra-base hits, and in the stunned and somber Atlanta clubhouse, the NL's reigning MVP said Edmonds is obviously motivated, playing with an intensity questioned at times in Anaheim.

"Phenomenal," Chipper Jones said of Edmonds. ". . . He's playing with so much confidence. You can see that in his eyes. There's a lot of intensity. He's been waiting for this for a long time and now he's on the stage."

So are the Cardinals, of course.

They now advance to the National League's championship series, opening Wednesday at home against the New York Mets or in San Francisco against the Giants.

Could the Cardinals have envisioned a sweep of the Braves?

"Hell, no," Manager Tony La Russa said. "I have such respect for their ball club I wouldn't have bet even a dollar on it, but I've also learned you don't put any limits on what you're trying to do. Our goal was to play hard five times. When we got up 2-0 [in games], we weren't going to let up."

The Braves went in with a 15-2 division series record, never having been eliminated this early, but they now face another long off-season having only that one World Series triumph to show for nine consecutive division titles and having now lost seven consecutive postseason games.

Maybe, Jones suggested, the Braves need to toughen up.

"We've seen it a few times here," Jones said of the premature elimination, "and we'll continue to see it until it starts [teeing] us off and we do something about it."

Jones said the first inning of the first game, when the Braves virtually handed the Cardinals six runs with sloppy play, seemed to set the disturbing tone.

Others felt the Braves lost heart when they blew the home-field advantage in the last inning of the last regular-season game.

"We'd have loved to open at home," Manager Bobby Cox said, "but if we had played the way we did in these three games the outcome wouldn't have been different."

An announced crowd of 49,898 saw Kevin Millwood, capping off a disappointing season, last only 4 2/3 innings as the Atlanta starter Saturday. Fernando Vina hit his second pitch for a home run, Edmonds drove in three more with his homer and double (chasing Millwood) and Vina put it away with a two-run single off Mike Remlinger in the sixth.

"After the Vina hit, the Atlanta dugout was a morgue," Will Clark said, looking in from his position at first base. "I mean, we just flat out beat 'em."

The Braves collected only three hits Saturday and batted .189 in the series. Cardinal starter Garrett Stephenson left after only 3 2/3 innings of the clincher with a recurrence of his September elbow trouble (La Russa was unsure of his NLCS status), but Britt Reames, Mike James, Matt Morris and Dave Veres did not allow a hit over the final 5 1/3 innings.

James, another former Angel, and Edmonds are best friends, and they repeatedly slapped and hugged each amid the champagne. No one was saying the Edmonds acquisition for Kent Bottenfield and Adam Kennedy was a steal, but the evidence is overwhelming. Edmonds is already being categorized as the latest in a line of great St. Louis center fielders that includes Terry Moore, Curt Flood and Willie McGee, but he shrugged and said he is just doing the job he was acquired to do.

"It's the playoffs," said Edmonds, whose home run broke a 1-1 tie in the third inning. "You step up. I'm never surprised by success, but I'm just happy to get the opportunity to play with a team and organization of this caliber. I couldn't imagine it would be this great. I dare anyone to show me a better group of guys, on and off the field. I dare anyone to show me a better group of fans. It's great that we get to play some more games for them."

At the end in Turner Field on Saturday, as the Cardinals danced on the Braves' grave in the middle of the diamond, it seemed like only the St. Louis fans were left, many still chanting "MVP."

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