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St. Louis advances easily

Jim Edmonds continues his MVP-like tear as the Cardinals win 7-1.

By Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 8, 2000

ATLANTA -- The St. Louis Cardinals dealt the Braves another post-season disappointment, sweeping Atlanta out of the opening round of the playoffs with shocking ease.

Jim Edmonds and Fernando Vina drove in three runs apiece as the Cardinals completed a three-game blitz with a 7-1 victory Saturday, putting St. Louis in the NL championship series for the first time since 1996.

"I told you guys! I told you guys!" Will Clark screamed in the champagne-drenched, music-blaring Cardinals clubhouse. "We just kept getting better and better."

Four years ago, the Cardinals squandered a 3-1 lead over Atlanta, which won the final three games of the NLCS by a combined score of 32-1. St. Louis got payback in this year's rematch, blowing out the Braves by an aggregate of 24-10.

"This is a different year," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "In 1996, we were close, but they were better."

Not this time. Atlanta got just three hits in the finale, and the biggest cheers were for Mark McGwire, who grounded out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth.

"It's definitely sweet," said Ray Lankford, one of three St. Louis holdovers from 1996. "I didn't think it would take this long to get back at them, but it was worth it."

Atlanta, making a ninth straight playoff appearance, will miss the NLCS for the first time since 1990. The Cardinals open Wednesday night, either at San Francisco or at home against the New York Mets.

"Everybody still wants to play," said Kevin Millwood, who took the loss for Atlanta. "But we ran into a hot ballclub that played better baseball than we did. Now we get to watch."

After Paul Bako ended the game by striking out, the Cardinals hopped up and down in the center of the field, thousands of their fans crowded behind the third-base dugout.

"They're always here with us," Edmonds said. "They're a part of our lives."

For the third time in four years, the Braves watched another team celebrate a playoff victory at Turner Field. Florida clinched the NLCS in Atlanta in 1997, followed by San Diego in '98.

"We've seen it a few times here," Chipper Jones said. "Until it (ticks) us off, we're going to keep on seeing it."

St. Louis set the tone for the series by scoring six runs in the first inning of Game 1, going on to a 7-5 victory over four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux.

The Cardinals followed with a 10-4 rout Thursday, handing 21-game winner Tom Glavine his shortest outing in seven years.

In Game 3, St. Louis struck another stunning blow on the second pitch from Millwood -- a high fastball that Vina lined into the first row of the right-field stands.

During the regular season, the Cardinals second baseman hit only four homers.

Then, with the score tied at 1, Edmonds went to work to chants of "M-V-P! M-V-P!" from thousands of red-clad Cardinals fans who filled out the less-than-sellout crowd at Turner Field.

In the third, he pounced on a 2-0 fastball from Millwood for a two-run homer. Edmonds stood at the plate for a few seconds to admire his towering, 418-foot shot into the Braves' rightfield bullpen.

Edmonds knocked out Millwood with a two-out, run-scoring double in the fifth that was misplayed by leftfielder Reggie Sanders. For the series, the Cardinals outfielder was 8-of-14 (.571) and set a division series record with four doubles.

"I'm so glad for him," La Russa said. "He had a huge season and I'm happy he could do it in October, too."

The Braves were buried when St. Louis scored three more in the sixth, prompting a serenade of boos before fans began clogging the exits. Vina had a two-run single against Mike Remlinger.

Until this year, the Braves had reached the NLCS eight seasons in a row (excluding strike-shortened 1994) and went on to the World Series five times.

But as remarkable as the post-season streak has been, Atlanta remains stuck on just one World Series championship.

The Braves have lost seven straight post-season games going back to a sweep by the Yankees in last year's World Series.

But that team overachieved after losing Andres Galarraga and Javy Lopez. The two sluggers returned this year, only to be part of a total collapse in the last 11/2 weeks.

In the middle of the fifth, the video board showed highlights of a shining moment in Atlanta's post-season history -- Sid Bream scoring the winning run in the 1992 NLCS.

The crowd hardly noticed.

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