By Dan Buffa
ST. LOUIS (KSDK SPORTS) - Sunday was a bittersweet day for many reasons. The Cardinals won, beating the Phillies 5-3 and earning a split in the series. Carlos Martinez took a step forward and made a good start. However, as Frank Sinatra once said, the sweet is not as sweet without the bitter. After the game, Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia were put on the disabled list with shoulder injuries that carried ZERO timetable for return. Cardinal Nation had to mix in a little bourbon with the pink lemonade.
The real thorn in every true Cards fans side Sunday was the 12 year anniversary of Darryl Kile's sudden death. On a Friday back in 2002, Kile passed away in his sleep in a hotel in Chicago as the Cardinals battled the Cubs. A few days earlier, Kile pitched the Cards into first place. The 2002 team shared some things with the 2014 team. Up and down. A jump start followed by a cold streak. Kile put the team in first place on the Tuesday before his death, and it was a spot the team would not give up for the duration of the 2002 season. I worked on the Manual Scoreboard at the Old Busch back then. I remember the start like the print was freshening up this morning in the Post Dispatch newspaper. Kile pitched into the 8th inning and the Cards won 7-2. They beat the Angels and it was a hot yet manageable evening in St. Louis.
I remember Tony La Russa coming to get the ball from Kile and the pitcher walking off the mound slow and steady. When Kile took the mound, he did so like a cowboy. A gunslinger firing his last shot at the opposition. He had a crutch in his step and it just made his presence more cool and commanding out there. Watching him walk off the mound, I didn't think it was the last time I would see him step off the hill.
I remember where I was when I heard he passed. I was riding in a car with my mom down I-170 and I nearly asked my mom to pull over. You know that feeling when your heart starts to skip around in your chest. It's an erratic feeling. Kile had settled into bed after dinner with his brother Dan on Friday night. When he didn't show up to the park on Saturday, security went to his room where they found his body. He was a healthy man so there was no real clue for what caused his demise other than unfortunate natural causes. I felt a lump in my chest because Kile was a good guy and had a wife and three kids. Take the pitching away and it was a sad loss.
Remember this first. I didn't know Darryl Kile. Many Cardinal fans didn't know him personally. However, in sports, a regular fan can connect with a player through the emotion of the game. Kile held the fate of my mood on many evenings and most of the time, he left me happy. While I didn't know him or ever spoke to him in person, I felt like we were partners in crime. That's baseball. That's sports. You don't have to know someone to have them leave a mark on your life. Kile was as good of a man as he was a ballplayer and that's something we can use more of in today's game.
I will never forget the games after his death. The ghostly atmosphere of that Sunday ESPN game played on the same weekend, where the team seemed to sleepwalk through. The way the team found a way to pick themselves up and battle. Seeing Matt Morris crumble inside yet hold his resolve on the mound. Mike Matheny's hand on the Kile jersey in the dugout. It was a testament to Tony La Russa's baseball clubs that the 2002 group held serve and almost made it to the World Series. I remember reading La Russa's comments in this Sports Illustrated column the day of Kile's death.
"Our club is just totally staggered, I mean, devastated," said manager Tony La Russa, who was visibly distraught. "You need someone smarter than me to explain it because I don't understand it."
Kile's death came four days after Jack Buck passed away. It was a brutal week for Cardinal Nation. Adding to that, the entire country was still in shock over 9/11 which happened 9 months before. It's a time period I will never forget. A tidal wave of relentless sadness that saw Cardinal Nation come closer and hold each other up.
Kile won't make it into the Hall of Fame. He didn't put together the career of an outstanding pitcher. He threw a no hitter in 1993. He won 19 games with the Houston Astros in 1997 and after a rough two seasons in Colorado had his career rescued by the Cardinals. He won 20 games in 2000 and 16 in 2001. He was 5-4 in 2002 yet was pitching his best baseball at the time of his death. His career will end with a bittersweet "you never know" asterisk attached to it. His leadership skills and care he showed with other players was as valued as his arm on the mound. Kile was a special player because he was a winner on and off the field. His legacy will never die and will always have a place in St. Louis.
In this town, we remember all kinds of baseball heroes. The heroes of the moment, like David Freese. Heroes of a decade like Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith and Albert Pujols. We also remember unique players like Kile because we got the last and very best of him.
Darryl Kile took the mound Tuesday night with first place in sight. When he left the mound, he made sure the team would have it in the morning. The Cards never gave it back. 12 years later, Cardinal Nation hasn't let go of Darryl Kile just yet.
Dan Buffa is a sports writer for Sports Rants. He is also a contributor to KSDK.com and Arch City Sports while writing for his own website, Dose Of Buffa. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @buffa82.