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Edmonds is back on track

MVP candidate glad to be playing games that matter again

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The last two weeks of the regular season were agonizing for Jim Edmonds, robbed of enthusiasm once the St. Louis Cardinals clinched the NL Central.

One of the team's trio of MVP candidates, his average dipped to .301 after a finishing 1-for-29 slump. Edmonds is happy to be playing games that count again after contributing to a record five-homer barrage in Game 1 of the NL division series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"It's nice when you have a lot of energy in the stadium," Edmonds said Wednesday. "This is what it's all about."

Edmonds thinks it's no coincidence that in Game 1 the Cardinals looked like the team that led the majors with 105 victories, and not the one that ended the season with an 8-7 dip after clinching the Central. They'll try to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series tonight, with Jason Marquis (15-7) opposing Jeff Weaver (13-13).

"Obviously, it's more fun when you're playing with something on the line," Edmonds said.

It's not nearly as much fun for the Dodgers, who'll be trying to rebound from an 8-3 loss. The five-homer game, including two by Larry Walker and one each by Edmonds, Albert Pujols and Mike Matheny, tied a major league postseason record.

Marquis is one of pitching coach Dave Duncan's greatest success stories, going from zero victories in the major leagues last year with Atlanta to being one of the better young pitchers after coming in a trade that sent J.D. Drew to the Braves. The biggest reason the Cardinals are using him instead of more experienced Matt Morris or Jeff Suppan in Game 2 is because he's been at his best on four days' rest.

Overall, Marquis had a 4.16 ERA. But pitching every fifth day he was 8-3 with a 2.46 ERA.

"It was one of the factors why he pitches, because he was the only guy you could really guarantee goes on four days' rest," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "It's something we paid attention to."

Marquis struggled in his last start, giving up three runs in 4 2-3 innings on Saturday in a loss to the Brewers. But that outing came on five days' rest and could be more of a factor than his first career 200-inning season.

"Every time I go out there and grab the ball I expect to pitch well," Marquis said. "But if the numbers show that, you might as well play the percentages."

Weaver was the Dodgers' most consistent starter, making a career-high 34 starts and ranking among the league leaders with 220 innings.

"He could have very easily won 17 or 18 games this year without doing anything differently, not one thing," Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said.

"He's been the workhorse of our staff, there's no getting around that, and he's been the model of consistency of our pitching staff since the first live ball we threw back in April."

This is Weaver's first postseason appearance since Game 4 of last year's World Series, when he gave up a game-winning, 12th-inning homer to the Marlins' Alex Gonzalez. He was 7-9 with a 5.99 ERA last year for New York.

"I don't think it's ever going to leave my mind, but this is a much better situation for me," Weaver said. "Of course, I've been thinking about this a long time in order to kind of have a happy highlight instead of a sour one, so I can't wait."

Weaver allowed nine earned runs in 13 innings over two regular-season starts against the Cardinals, the NL's best-hitting and highest-scoring team.

"It kind of reminds me of the Yankees and Boston because any guy in the lineup can hurt you," Weaver said.

Indeed, Marquis batted .292 this season, with six doubles and nine RBIs. That included a six-game hitting streak, the longest by a pitcher in two years.