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The wreckage of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock's 2007 Ford Explorer sits in the parking lot of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department on Sunday. Hancock, 29, a key member of the bullpen that helped the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series last season, was killed in a car crash early Sunday.
AP photo by Kyle Ericson
The wreckage of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock's 2007 Ford Explorer sits in the parking lot of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department on Sunday. Hancock, 29, a key member of the bullpen that helped the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series last season, was killed in a car crash early Sunday.

Car wreck claims life of ex-AU pitcher
Vestavia Hills grad was
reliever for Cardinals

The Associated Press

The St. Louis Cardinals are mourning a teammate for the second time in five years, and it isn't any easier this time.

Former Auburn standout Josh Hancock, a relief pitcher who helped the team win the World Series last season, died early Sunday when his sport utility vehicle slammed into the back of a tow truck, bringing back painful memories of Darryl Kile's death in June 2002.

"There's a big hole that's going to be there," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "This is brutal to go through."

The Cardinals postponed their home game Sunday night against the Chicago Cubs. La Russa informed Hancock's family of the accident early Sunday.

"What words can you give somebody in a situation like this?" Cubs manager Lou Piniella asked.

Police said the 29-year-old Hancock was alone in his 2007 Ford Explorer when the SUV struck the rear of a flatbed tow truck at 12:35 a.m. The tow truck was in the left lane with its lights flashing while assisting another car that had crashed, Police Chief Joe Mokwa said.

Hancock died upon impact, Mokwa said. The driver of the tow truck, whose name was not released by police, was in the truck at the time of the crash but was not injured. Mokwa said the truck driver saw Hancock's SUV swerve just before it hit the tow truck.

Mokwa said it appeared Hancock was driving at or just above the speed limit, and there were no alcohol containers in his vehicle.

"We may never know what occurred," Mokwa said. "It appears that he just merely didn't see the tow truck."

The medical examiner's office said an autopsy had been scheduled. Services were planned for Thursday in Tupelo, Miss., where Hancock's family lives. Hancock was single.

The Cardinals will wear patches with Hancock's No. 32 on their sleeves for the rest of the season. The team also planned a memorial for the bullpen, which already features a tribute to Kile, found dead in his hotel room in Chicago. The 33-year-old pitcher died of 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. 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 season.

Auburn connection

Hancock was a key member of the 1997 Auburn team that advanced to the College World Series. Hancock went 2-0 with a 4.75 ERA in 13 appearances for Auburn in 1997, striking out 32 in 30 1/3 innings.

Hal Baird, the former Auburn head baseball coach who coached Hancock, said he was "deeply saddened" by the loss of a "very special talent."

Hancock, who was born in Cleveland, Miss., attended Vestavia Hills High in suburban Birmingham.

Baird said he saw Hancock pitching for the Cardinals in spring training last year.

"He was in great spirits and it was obvious that his career was really on the upturn," Baird said in a statement Sunday. "It's a terrible loss for Josh and his family and the Auburn baseball family. My thoughts and prayers go out to them in this difficult time."

Auburn head coach Tom Slater, who was an assistant when Hancock played there, said Hancock was a part of "arguably the best pitching staff and arguably the best team ever to play at Auburn."

He said it's a "shame whenever anyone dies, especially someone as young as Josh, in a tragic accident. It makes everyone feel thankful for the moments we have. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Hancock family."

Athletics Director Jay Jacobs also added his condolences, saying the "Auburn family is extremely saddened by the tragic loss."

Atlanta Braves ace Tim Hudson played with Hancock at Auburn. Like Hancock, Hudson was part of the team that went to the 1997 College World Series.

"It feels like being punched in the stomach right now," Hudson said. "Josh was such a good person. I saw him a few times a year going back to Auburn for football games. It's really a shock."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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