Cardinals 7, Braves 1

Saturday, October 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ The St. Louis Cardinals dealt Atlanta another postseason disappointment, sweeping the Braves 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.

That year, the Cardinals squandered a 3-1 lead over Atlanta, which won the final three games 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. 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.

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 New York.

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 Kevin 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' right-field bullpen.

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

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 postseason streak has been, Atlanta remains stuck on just one World Series championship.

The Braves have lost seven straight postseason 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 1 1/2 weeks.

The Braves closed the regular season by losing four of five _ including a ninth-inning debacle in the finale that cost home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Leading Colorado 5-3, Chipper Jones botched a grounder to third that should have ended the game. The Rockies took advantage of the error to score seven runs, including a three-run homer by Todd Helton on an 0-2 pitch from John Rocker.

The Braves never recovered.

St. Louis starter Garrett Stephenson, bothered by tendinitis the last month, lasted only 3 2-3 innings before he was forced out with a stiff elbow. He gave up Galarraga's RBI single in the first for the only Atlanta run.

The Braves were hitless over the final 5 1-3 innings against four St. Louis relievers, including winner Britt Reames.

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

The crowd hardly noticed.

Notes: Until this year, the Braves had a record of 15-2 in the division series. They lost more games in five days against St. Louis. ... Lopez left after the sixth inning with a strained left knee. St. Louis 3B Placido Polanco also failed to finish because of tightness in his right hamstring. ... Millwood actually handled his biggest St. Louis nemesis, Will Clark. The first baseman was 5-for-8 with four homers in his career against Millwood before striking out and popping up. ... The Cardinals have played three best-of-five series in their history, sweeping each time. ... St. Louis C Carlos Hernandez tied a division series record by throwing out three runners attempting to steal in the three games.