Everyone who said it would be a cold day in August before Cubs fans cheered former Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds for a warning-track fly ball were apparently right on the money.
With unseasonably cool temperatures dipping into the mid-60s Sunday night at Wrigley Field, Edmonds received three standing ovations in a 6-2 victory over St. Louis, including one in the second inning for flying out and advancing a runner.
The man Cubs fans once loved to hate has morphed into a player they've learned to love in pinstripes, and Edmonds mania was front and center again before a raucous crowd of 41,268 and a national TV audience.
"That's what it's all about," Edmonds said. "Playoff atmosphere. It's the ultimate home-field advantage. There's just so much energy. It's awesome."
On a crisp night that felt more like early October than the dog days of August, Edmonds almost managed to upstage Ryan Dempster (13-5), who outdueled Chris Carpenter. Dempster allowed two runs on six hits over 62/3 innings, winning for the 11th time in 13 decisions at Wrigley.
"It's been awesome here, really, from Day One at Wrigley," Dempster said. "It's been kind of a unique place to play. I've been here five years, and it's never really felt like this. I've played in other cities, and it has definitely never felt like this."
The first sign of the Edmonds lovefest occurred in the second. Aramis Ramirez singled, hustled to second after Ryan Ludwick's bobble in right and took third on Edmonds' deep flyout. Edmonds received a standing ovation as he headed to the dugout, and Ramirez then scored on Mark DeRosa's sacrifice fly.
Edmonds' second ovation came when he made a diving catch of a sinking liner by Carpenter to end the fourth, preventing the tying run from scoring.
"Just trying to pay attention," Edmonds said. "I knew it was a big situation, and I knew I needed to make a play if it was to me. That's what I get paid to do."
Dempster, meanwhile, was rolling along against a Cardinals lineup ranked second in the National League in hitting behind the Cubs. He limited St. Louis to four hits through six scoreless innings before the Cubs broke through with five runs in the sixth off Carpenter and the bullpen.
Making his third start after spending more than a year and a half on the disabled list due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, Carpenter left the game with a strained right triceps and one run in. The Cubs added four more to make it 6-0 before Jeff Samardzija replaced Dempster with two outs in the seventh after Joe Mather's RBI double ended the shutout.
Kerry Wood threw a perfect eighth in his first game back after suffering from back spasms, and Carlos Marmol finished it.
"We don't think we're going to win," Dempster said. "We know we are."
The Cubs finished the homestand with a 6-3 record, remaining four games ahead of second-place Milwaukee and pushing the Cardinals seven back. While they captured an important series against one of their closest pursuers, manager Lou Piniella warned that everything is relative.
"The most important ones will be the last four or five to play," Piniella said.
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