Two months ago, Jim Edmonds was released by one of the worst offensive teams in baseball. On Thursday, he slugged his new team to a commanding lead in the NL Central.
Edmonds hit two homers, including a grand slam, and the Chicago Cubs finished off a four-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers with an 11-4 rout to extend their lead in the division.
"I just got it started," said Edmonds, "Nice to win, nice series."
Just five days ago, the Cubs and Brewers were tied atop the division after Milwaukee made up five games in nine days. After the sweep, the Brewers have lost five straight and are five games back again.
The Cardinals began the day four games behind Chicago.
Rich Harden (1-1) picked up his first NL win, giving up a run and six hits in seven innings with nine strikeouts. He has yet to allow more than one run in any of his four starts since being traded to the Cubs.
"I felt as strong as I've been," Harden said.
Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome also homered for the Cubs, who swept four games from the Brewers for the first time since 2003.
"No one is happy after a game like this," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "We don't like the fact that we allowed their fans to come into our park and have a four-day party. But that's our fault."
Edmonds provided all the offense needed after missing the previous three games because of a sore left knee. He led off the third with a homer to right to give the Cubs the lead. Chicago scored first in each game of the series and outscored Milwaukee 31-11 in the series, all while stranding 35 runners on base.
The Cubs improved to 8-2 at Milwaukee in the last two seasons.
Brewers starter Dave Bush (5-9) retired the first two batters in the fourth, but Aramis Ramirez walked, Fukudome doubled and Bush hit Mark DeRosa with an 0-2 pitch to bring up Edmonds.
The 38-year-old center fielder, who joined Chicago in May, hit an opposite-field grand slam to left to make it 5-0. It was the seventh grand slam of his career and the 27th time he's hit two homers in a game.
Edmonds started the year with the San Diego Padres, hitting .178 in 26 games with one homer. He was released on May 9. After he cleared waivers, the Cubs signed him as a free agent on May 15.
Since then, Edmonds is hitting .277 with 12 homers in 155 at-bats.
Soriano added a solo homer and Fukudome hit a two-out, two-run shot in the eighth sandwiched around Ramirez's RBI double to make it 9-1.
The game nearly turned ugly in the ninth when Gagne threw behind Edmonds on a 3-0 pitch and was immediately ejected by home plate umpire Doug Eddings.
"The umpire told me I can't go inside," Gagne said.
Edmonds took his base instead of escalating the situation.
"I really believe that you go out there, set that kind of example day in and day out and keep it together," he said. "Not to say that they were wrong or anything, it's just that that's the way the game is. You can't ride the ups and downs with this game or it will kill you."
Did Edmonds think it was intentional?
"I don't make anything of it, I know where it came from," Edmonds said. "I've played this game a long time, I know what's going on."
The Cubs trailed just once in the series, and that was for one inning on Monday.
The Brewers have downplayed the much-hyped July series after initially calling it a dress rehearsal and a test for September and the playoffs.
"This is not a death sentence by any means," Yost said. "If this was September, it would be different. We have plenty of time to recover from this and get back on track."
Reigning AL Cy Young winner CC Sabathia and NL All-Star starter Ben Sheets couldn't beat Ted Lilly or Carlos Zambrano. Ryan Dempster pushed the Brewers to the brink of being swept Wednesday night with another strong effort, setting the stage for Harden, who compared their performances to when he was younger with Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito in Oakland.
"You kind of feed off each other. You see every starter going out there and doing really well, and you want to match them," Harden said. "I think it is contagious. ... It's a pretty amazing staff here."
The two teams will meet six times in the final 12 games, including the final three games of the regular season at Miller Park.
"There's baseball to be played in August, September," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "But certainly, coming in here and beating a good opponent at their home ballpark four times is something to feel good about."