For the second time in five seasons, the St. Louis Cardinals will have to get back to playing baseball while mourning the death of a teammate.
On Monday night, the Cardinals will take the field for the first time after reliever Josh Hancock’s death in a car accident when they visit the Milwaukee Brewers in the opener of a three-game series at Miller Park.
The 29-year-old Hancock was alone in his 2007 Ford Explorer when he struck the rear of a tow truck early Sunday morning, police said. The truck was in the left lane assisting another vehicle that was involved in a prior accident, according to an officer.
Hancock was pronounced dead at the scene and an autopsy has been scheduled.
“All of baseball today mourns the tragic and untimely death of St. Louis pitcher Josh Hancock,” baseball commissioner Bud Selig said Sunday. “He was a fine young pitcher who played an important role on last year’s World Series championship team.”
The Cardinals will wear patches with Hancock’s No. 32 on their sleeves for the rest of the season.
In the wake of the tragedy, Sunday’s series finale between St. Louis (10-13) and the Chicago Cubs was postponed. A Cardinals-Cubs game also was postponed in June 2002 after Darryl Kile died at 33 in his Chicago hotel room from a coronary artery blockage.
Hancock, who pitched three innings of relief in Saturday’s 8-1 loss to the Cubs, played for four major league clubs in six seasons. He went 3-3 with a 4.09 ERA in 62 regular-season appearances for the Cardinals last season and pitched in three postseason games.
He was 0-1 with a 3.55 ERA in eight games this year.
“There’s a big hole that’s going to be there,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “This is brutal to go through.”
The Cardinals lost their first game after Kile passed away and dropped five of seven before they went 17-8 in July en route to the NL Central title.
Milwaukee (15-9) will send one of Hancock’s former teammates to the mound in Jeff Suppan (3-2, 2.97 ERA), who returned to St. Louis and picked up his World Series ring on April 13 before beating the Cardinals the next day for his first win of the season.
That started Suppan’s current three-game winning streak in which he has posted a 2.21 ERA. All three victories have come against division foes.
The Brewers are the only team in the division with a winning record. They completed a 4-2 road trip with a 3-1 victory at Houston on Sunday.
Milwaukee has won eight of its last 11 and is 13-0 when they lead after seven innings.
“I like the way we’re playing,” said left fielder Geoff Jenkins, who homered. “There’s definitely another level we can play to. We’re happy with the way we’ve played, but we’ve got to keep getting better.”
Kip Wells (1-4, 4.70), scheduled to start Sunday’s game for the Cards, is expected to take the mound for this contest. Wells is 0-3 with a 7.13 ERA in his last three outings, beginning with a 3-2 loss to Suppan and the Brewers on April 14.
He lasted a season-low 4 2-3 innings against Cincinnati on Tuesday, giving up eight runs and nine hits - including three homers - with three walks in a 10-3 defeat.