Work in Sports
Fernando Vina opened the game with a home run and red-hot Jim Edmonds added a two-run shot in the third inning as the Cardinals completed an improbable three-game sweep of the Braves in their National League Division Series, 7-1.
Despite having home-field advantage, the Cardinals were given little chance of defeating the postseason-tested Braves. But St. Louis took advantage of some shoddy Atlanta defense in the first inning of Game One, scored six times off Greg Maddux and never looked back, outscoring the Braves 24-10.
"We're disappointed we didn't win this series," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "We're more disappointed we didn't make the games close. We didn't hit well or pitch well. ... Our ballclub performed all well in the season, but we got off to a bad start in that first game and never recovered, but we never lost confidence. We really felt good. We really felt we could pull it off."
The Cardinals will face either the San Francisco Giants or New York Mets in the League Championship Series. St. Louis last appeared in the NLCS in 1996, when they were eliminated in seven games by the Braves.
"I like this team," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "I like the way they all come through. I've been one of the most fortunate guys around. This ballclub ranks with the ones I've enjoyed the most. They really like each other. I can't remember having a better time watching a club play."
"From first pitch (of the series), it was hammer down," Cardinals first baseman Will Clark said. "I don't know about leadership. I'm just enthusiastic. I know as you get older you appreciate it more. We took the game to them three games in a row and whooped up on them."
Atlanta, making its ninth straight postseason appearance, again was denied a World Series title. The Braves won the World Series in 1995 but have battled the tag of postseason underachievers for the better part of a decade.
The loss was the seventh straight in the playoffs for Atlanta, which was swept by the New York Yankees in the 1999 World Series. The Braves entered this series 15-2 in Division Series play but never recovered after seeing Maddux and Tom Glavine hammered in the opening two games.
Vina hit the second pitch of the game from Kevin Millwood (0-1) over the wall in right as the Cardinals scored their 10th first-inning run in the series. The Braves got even on a two-out single by Andres Galarraga in the bottom of the first but St. Louis went ahead for good in the third.
Edgar Renteria singled with one out and Edmonds lofted a 2-0 pitch over the wall in right-center field. Edmonds went 8-for-14 in the series with two homers and seven RBI.
The only negative for the Cardinals was an elbow injury to starter Garrett Stephenson. After recording two outs in the fourth, Stephenson was forced to leave the game and rookie Britt Reames (1-0), who tossed two hitless innings in Game One, was called on in an emergency roll.
Reames, a 27-year-old rookie who missed all of 1997 and 1998 with an injury and did not make his major league debut until August 20, contributed 1 1/3 hitless innings today.
Edmonds made it 4-1 with an RBI double in the fifth but Atlanta had a chance to get back in the game in the bottom of the inning. Bobby Bonilla and rookie Rafael Furcal walked with one out but speedy Andruw Jones grounded into a double play.
Braves reliever Terry Mulholland ran into trouble in the sixth, walking Ray Lankford and surrendering a single to Carlos Hernandez. After J.D. Drew bunted the runners over, Braves manager Bobby Cox called on Kerry Ligtenberg, who got Placido Polancio to ground to second.
Atlanta second baseman Keith Lockhart bobbled the ball and his throw to the plate was late, allowing Lankford to score for a 5-1 cushion. Polanco stole second but pinch-hitter Eric Davis struck out. Cox turned to Mike Remlinger and he surrendered a back-breaking two-run single to Vina.
"Anytime you go against the Braves, you're facing the two best pitchers ever to pitch in this game," Vina said. "We just try not to psych ourselves out."
Mike James, who tossed two scoreless innings in Game One on Tuesday, added two more perfect frames today. Matt Morris got all three batters he faced in the eighth before Veres got the side easily in the ninth.
"The bullpen never gets a whole lot of credit," James said.
"We're just as much a part of this team as anyone."
Millwood, who got the start over Andy Ashby, allowed four runs and four hits over 4 2/3 innings.
"They played really great baseball, Millwood said. "We didn't get the big hits, we didn't get the big pitching."