Cardinals try to honor late teammate Hancock by moving on

Updated: April 30, 2007, 11:09 PM ET
Associated Press

MILWAUKEE -- A day after the death of Josh Hancock, the St. Louis Cardinals tried to move on. They had a game to play.

But for Scott Spiezio, it was too much to handle. He was overcome with emotion just before the first pitch when he saw Hancock's jersey and the black No. 32 patch the team would be wearing Monday night, and manager Tony La Russa pulled him from the starting lineup.

"I got a little caught up right before gametime," Spiezio said. "Seeing the patch, seeing the jersey. It's hard to escape, you know? Usually, you've got stuff going on and when you get to the park, you can escape it. Here, you can't."

With Hancock's jersey hanging in the bullpen and the dugout, and Milwaukee fans observing a moment of silence, the Cardinals went back to work, trying to focus on the task at hand.

They lost to the Brewers 7-1, struggling at the plate and in the field.

Kip Wells (1-5) balked in a run in the second and gave up seven runs in six innings to take the loss. Adam Kennedy was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double in the fourth, and shortstop David Eckstein was left holding the ball with nowhere to throw as a second run crossed the plate after a triple by Milwaukee's Kevin Mench in the sixth.

La Russa wasn't willing to use the loss of a teammate as an excuse.

"I think the whole first month, we've been a little fuzzy," La Russa said. "We just need to sharpen our focus."

But former Cardinals pitcher and Hancock teammate Jeff Suppan (4-2) was stellar for Milwaukee, giving up only one run and eight hits in his 16th career complete game.

"I am not going to say it was easy," Suppan said. "I don't know how to describe it. It's tough. I am not a Cardinal anymore, so I don't know what it is like in that locker room."

Right-hander Dennis Dove, who was called up from Triple-A Memphis to fill Hancock's roster spot, made his major league debut in the seventh.

"I hate it happened like this, but it's a dream come true for me," Dove said before the game.

The Cardinals will wear the patches on their sleeves for the rest of the season. Pitcher Tyler Johnson held one of Hancock's jerseys during the national anthem and outfielder Preston Wilson draped his arm around teammate So Taguchi's shoulder in the dugout.

La Russa did not open the Cardinals' clubhouse to the media before the game. He warned his players to be wary of the "insincerity" of media members who "have their own agendas."

"The first time I hear insincerity, man, I'm going to start swinging this fungo," he told reporters, resting on a practice bat.

The 29-year-old Hancock was killed shortly after midnight Sunday when his SUV struck the rear of a flatbed tow truck on a St. Louis highway. The Cardinals' scheduled home game against Chicago on Sunday night was postponed.

Around the majors, Hancock was remembered.

Atlanta Braves ace Tim Hudson pitched Monday night with the letters "JH" ironed onto the left chest of his jersey -- Hancock was his former college teammate at Auburn. There were moments of silence at several ballparks.

"Obviously, everybody's grieving and sad about the loss that we have," Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter said. "Josh was a great player, a great teammate, a great guy in the clubhouse."

Center fielder Jim Edmonds and a few others in the Cardinals' clubhouse have experience playing under such difficult circumstances. Nearly five years ago, St. Louis pitcher Darryl Kile was found dead in his Chicago hotel room. Kile died at 33 of a coronary artery blockage.

"Those of us who were here in '02 remember how difficult it was," La Russa said. "But I think the best approach is: There are a lot of people who aren't in professional baseball that suffer family, friends that are lost, have died or hurt seriously in an accident. That kind of suffering and sadness is part of life."

Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan said dealing with Kile's death did not make it any easier to handle Hancock's loss.

"I don't think it helps me," Duncan said. "Maybe understanding you will get through it, it will pass in time. But it never goes away."

Hancock is the second active major leaguer to die in the last six months. Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle died in a plane crash in October.

Hancock, who previously had pitched for Boston and Philadelphia, joined the Cardinals in spring training last season. Cincinnati had released him for violating a weight clause in his contract.

"He was trying to prove to everybody that he could get back into shape and be a contributor to this team," Edmonds said. "And he worked really hard, and I give him a lot of credit for the things he went through."

Edmonds said the team is "still in shock," but was gradually moving on by sharing stories about him.

"He was such a great guy and such a happy guy, just such an original personality as far as a jokester and a competitor and friend," Edmonds said. "You just can't help but think of all the funny things that used to go on in the clubhouse. So guys are trying to pull each other together with some stories -- and trying to be professional, and trying to mourn at the same time."

La Russa praised Hancock for his hard work.

"I respect and miss Josh, and want to honor his memory by competing like he did for us," he said.<

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AP Sports Writers Colin Fly in Milwaukee, R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis, Paul Newberry in Atlanta, Mike Fitzpatrick in New York, and Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this report.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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