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Cards' Class of '04 makes '06 Classic

Cards' Class of '04 makes '06 Classic

ST. LOUIS -- If this was Jim Edmonds' farewell to St. Louis, he couldn't have given the city, his teammates and their fans a better parting gift.

Edmonds, the dean of the Cardinals, may be playing somewhere else in 2007, but he'll always be a hero in this city now. As a central player on the 10th Cardinals World Series championship team, his name will always be remembered. Edmonds had two doubles and four RBIs in five games.

But it's not just Edmonds' on-field performance that helped deliver the title. It's what he and fellow members of the Cardinals' Class of '04 brought to the 2006 team as it made its way through the playoffs. The experiences of Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Albert Pujols, Jeff Suppan and others helped shape the latest Cardinals World Series champion team. They took an old frustration and spun it into elation.

And in so doing, they reinstated the 2004 season as exactly what it should be in Cardinals history: a great, great year, that just happened to end with four losses. The World Series sweep at the hands of the Red Sox, a loss that followed a 105-win season, doesn't hurt so much anymore. It's been pushed out of the memory banks by the 10th championship season for one of baseball's greatest franchises.

"A couple years ago," Edmonds said, "we were just excited to get in the World Series. And I think from the first pitch of the first game of the playoffs [this year], we started talking about being focused long enough to get through this situation and not get a little out of control every time we won a series. After the National League Championship Series, I was really impressed with how everybody handled the situation and gathered it up and got it under control quickly."

That was not the case two years ago. After winning a seven-game series from the Astros, the Cardinals were swept by the Red Sox. The greatest regret was that they didn't show the country what they were capable of. This time around, there were no such worries. The Cardinals played their best baseball of the season in October.

Edmonds made it a point to help out his teammates who hadn't been in a World Series before. In addition to a host of rookies, the Cards had plenty of veterans who'd never played for the big ring before. In hopes of averting another defeat, Edmonds started talking to the Cardinals early in October -- long before anyone outside St. Louis even considered the club a threat to last that long.

"I think Jim Edmonds was huge for all of us," said rookie Chris Duncan. "He and Rolen, those guys who went through it in '04, they stayed focused. I think Jimmy really pulled us together, and he led us to the championship."

Rolen went 0-for-the-World Series in 2004. In '06, he was a candidate for MVP honors. Suppan's '04 showing is best known for a baserunning gaffe. His '06 will be remembered for another in a long line of gutsy, big-game starts. Edmonds had one hit in '04 -- he topped that in one game this time around. Pujols, who didn't drive in a run in '04, had a key home run in 2006.

"Don't talk to me about '04," Pujols said. "This is '06. That was two years ago. For Jimmy and Scotty and myself, the guys that were on that team, it was a heartbreaker. We maybe were a little bit satisfied with what we accomplished, to get to the World Series. By the time we came home, we were down two games.

"At the same time, you need to give credit to that Boston team. We just came at the wrong time. They pretty much beat us really bad. But this World Series, 2006, wiped everything out."

It wasn't so much that they wanted to forget 2004, though. Nor was it about redemption. It was about learning from the experience, and winning in 2006.

"I think you learn from every situation," Suppan said. "That was tough, when we lost here at home, and to watch them celebrate on our field. You get over it, but you learn from it. I think we all learned from it. We didn't take anything for granted, and we kept our focus."

For Rolen, the player who probably heard the most about '04, that Series doesn't even exist anymore. It's all about his first ring, and the teammates and fans who are celebrating it with him.

"I haven't thought a thing about two years ago," he said. "I'm just thinking about what's going on right now."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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