Monday, June 25, 2012

A Look Back at the 2002 Cardinals

                 Darryl Kile meeting with Mike Matheny

2002 was a tragic year for the Cardinals. Hall of Fame outfielder Enos Slaughter died that year, as did 1982 World Series MVP Darrel Porter. Longtime Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck died on June 18, 2002. Four days later in Chicago, pitcher Darryl Kile was found dead in his hotel room at age 33. I remember turning on the game, and Cubs catcher Joe Girardi tearfully announcing that the game had been cancelled.

Kile was one of the most respected members on the Cardinals during this time. Kile revived his career with the Cardinals after struggling with the Rockies for two seasons. Reliever Dave Veres was teammates with him in Colorado, and came to St. Louis in the same trade in late 1999. Kile was also Matt Morris' mentor, and Morris was never the same after Kile's death.

Dave Duncan made some adjustment's to Kile when he came over to St. Louis, and his curveball was effective again after getting out of the thin air of Colorado. Kile won 20 games in 2000, and made his third All Star appearance. In 2001, Kile lowered his ERA to 3.16 and won 16 games. He was the pitcher he was in Houston again. Kile was the Astros' ace before signing a big deal with the Rockies.

This is a type of thing that could have a negative impact on a team. One of their leaders and clubhouse favorites died in midseason. The Cardinals recently took over first place less than a week before Kile's death. The team rallied together after Kile's death and went on a run in the second half. The 2002 Cardinals were a resilient team, and Tony La Russa won his first manager of the year award in St. Louis. He was  credited for keeping the team focused despite the tragedy.

The Cardinals also made some big moves in July, before the trading deadline. They traded valuable utilityman Placido Polanco, reliever Mike Timlin, and 22 year old pitcher Bud Smith(who pitched a no-hitter in 2001) to the Phillies for All Star third baseman Scott Rolen. Rolen was up for free agency after the season, but liked playing in St. Louis and re-signed. Smith never pitched in the big leagues again after the trade. They then traded outfield prospect Coco Crisp to the Indians for left handed starter Chuck Finley.

Rolen added to an already prolific offense. Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols, Edgar Renteria, and JD Drew were already mainstays on a team that finished 2nd in the National League in runs scored. Rolen also brought his great defense to St. Louis, and won several Gold Gloves during his time here.

Andy Benes also made a comeback in 2002, after being plagued by injuries the last year and a half. Benes pitched well down the stretch and Finley was a big pickup as well. The Cards were able to make up the loss of the player Kile, but not the person. Woody Williams and Morris also pitched well down the stretch in 2002. Finley and Benes would both end up retiring after the season, but both pitched well in the second half. The Cardinals ended up winning the division by 13 games and won 97 games during the regular season.

In the postseason, the Cardinals swept the defending World Champion Diamondbacks in the Division Series. Unfortunately, Alex Cintron ran into Scott Rolen during the series, and Rolen missed the Championship Series. The Cardinals fell to the Giants in the NLCS in 5 games. It was a dissapointing finish, but a memorable year. Its hard to believe that ten years has passed since then.

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