Thursday, June 26, 2014

June 26, 2002 - Coping With Loss - An Emotional Win

Wednesday, June 26, 2002 - At Busch Stadium II - (Starting Pitcher - Woody Williams) - Opponent:  Milwaukee Brewers (Jamey Wright - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  32,686

For a grief-stricken team trying to cope with the sudden and shocking death of their teammate - Darryl Kile -  this game produced an emotional win, no doubt inspired by the memory of their good friend, who had passed away just four days earlier.

And just four days before his untimely death, Kile had a strong outing - beating a very good LA Angels of Anaheim team - allowing just one run in 7.2 IP - a great improvement over his previous two starts when he was hit hard and plagued by the long ball - two home runs in each game.

In Kile's June 12 start in Seattle, he was hit especially hard, allowing five runs on six hits - including a pair of home runs - in just 4.1 IP.  When manager Tony LaRussa decided to remove his ineffective pitcher  before he could get the last two outs in the fifth, words were exchanged on the mound - and later in the clubhouse - between the two.

Kile - fiercely competitive and not at all happy with the way he'd been pitching of late - still felt slighted by the quick hook, and let his manager know.  After further discussion, the two resolved this minor dispute - giving Kile peace of mind prior to making his final start.  Afterwards, a relieved and appreciative Kile expressed his thanks to his manager for helping him get back on track - a gesture LaRussa felt comforted by in the wake of Darryl's tragic death.

With the inevitable shock and grief the entire team was experiencing, it was virtually impossible to focus on any on-field activities.  Suddenly, playing baseball seemed inappropriate; the games so meaningless.

But then, after much clubhouse discussion, along with private talks with each other about getting on with life again, the team decided to dedicate the rest of the season to the memory of Darryl Kile - and start playing winning baseball again.

This game was a small step in the team healing process - a 5-2 highly emotional win.  Despite the fact that the heart of the Cardinal lineup - Drew, Pujols, Edmonds and Martinez - went 0 for 13 - the rest of the team picked up the slack.

The Cardinals scored three runs in the second-inning - the first run driven in by Mike Matheny - then a pair of two-out RBI's by an inspired Woody Williams and Fernando Vina.

St Louis scored two more in the second-inning - and both runs scored with two outs - on another RBI single by Matheny - who had three hits in the game - and one by Eli Marrero.

They wasted very few scoring opportunities tonight - with RISP:  Five hits in eight tries.

Meanwhile, Woody Williams (5-3) was an intense, focused pitcher - not allowing the Brewers to capitalize on any of their scoring opportunities through the first seven innings.  After running out of gas in the eighth-inning, Williams managed to retire two batters while yielding a pair of runs.  LaRussa brought the colorful Steve Kline in to get the third out of the inning, as Woody slowly walked off the mound to a standing ovation.  There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Isringhausen worked a perfect ninth for his 16th save, as the first-place Cardinals (41-33) - still grieving but with a sense of purpose - maintained a slim two game advantage over the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central.

St Louis would finish the season with a 56-32 record, as Tony LaRussa guided his team well, in the wake of immense tragedy.  From June 26 to the end of the regular season, no other National League team won more games than the Cardinals.

There was little doubt he would be named NL Manager of the Year in 2002 - arguably, this was his finest - and most stressful - season at the helm, in his 33 years of managing a big league club.

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