Brave new world

by Chris Haffenreffer | 10/11/00 5:00am

Flipping through the television channels last week trying to find something decent to watch at four in the afternoon, I settled on Game One of the Braves-Cardinals series. I saw the Cardinals destroy Greg Maddux in the first inning for six runs and ultimately hold off the Braves for a 7-5 victory. And I could only hope that the Cards could maintain that intensity and become the first team since 1990 to make sure the Braves failed to advance to the National League Championship Series.

There was a time 10 years ago when I could stand the Atlanta Braves, when Terry Pendleton played the five spot, Sid Bream came off the bench to play first, Andruw Jones wasn't close to professional ball and Rafael Furcal was barely out of diapers. After struggling for so long in the '80s, it only seemed fitting that the Braves start winning, and the sort of dominance that Atlanta began to display became interesting. It was amazing to watch the same team come back year after year and tear through the regular season, hoping it could finally win a World Series title.

Then they won a Series, but wouldn't go away. Didn't they realize that we had had enough of them? They became another annoying organization with the ability to spend money on talented, young, arrogant players. Andruw Jones began to roam the outfield with the kind of laziness that is normally chastised by most managers. The immortal starting rotation which had once been another interesting saga in the Braves organization, now became monotonous.

That's why it was so sweet to see the St. Louis Cardinals rough up the Braves' pitching for 24 runs in a three-game sweep. After giving up seven runs on nine hits in four innings of the opening game, Maddux was pulled by manager Bobby Cox. In Game Two, Tom Glavine lasted only two and a third innings, giving up seven runs on six hits. Kevin Millwood lasted only four and two-thirds innings in Game Three. The Braves combined for five errors in the three games, while the offense continued to struggle with a .189 batting average.

There hasn't been a playoff series in the last decade when the Braves were dominated to the extent they were in this division series. The Cardinals hit better, fielded better and pitched better. St. Louis played with the kind of intensity that the Braves used to play with, and perhaps the Atlanta fans realized this. One would have expected Game Three to bring out the Atlanta die-hards, yet there were plenty of empty seats to be seen. As the Cards jumped out to a seven-to-one lead in the sixth, many began filing out of the stadium. There was hardly even a playoff buzz going on, and by the end of the game most of the fans in the stadium were wearing Cardinal red.

Perhaps it is finally time for the torch to be passed in the National League. When once it seemed as if the only people in America who liked the Braves were those from Atlanta, it now appears as if even they don't care. Is it just coincidence that the Cardinals -- the team with the best fans in baseball -- dethroned the Braves? Watching Game One of the division series, there was something in Busch Stadium that screamed baseball. That added intensity, the constant hum of excitement that reverberated off the walls was a part of every person standing in that stadium. This is a team that wants to win, and these are fans that would give anything to see a championship in St. Louis again.

The fans and the team do it without one of the most prolific home run hitters in the game. St. Louis cheered the Cardinals to the same extent when Mark McGwire was still in Oakland, and now the team is succeeding with an injured McGwire watching from the dugout. Right now this is the best team in baseball and the most fun to watch. Everything seems to be going well for St. Louis, and the baseball community can only hope that the success of this team persists for years to come.We've finally found the remedy for the failure of baseball to capture the nation the way it once did.