Last Saturday, June 22, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile was found dead at his hotel room, an apparent victim of undetected hardening of the arteries. He was 33. To call his death "unexpected" falls far short of the sense of shock felt through the world of baseball.
Unexpected is a word better employed for what he did on September 8, 1993, pitching in the Dome for the Houston Astros, when he no-hit the New York Mets. I was there, sitting in the gray Loge boxes directly behind home plate. I still have the ticket stub.
I keep it with the stubs from the other two no-hitters I’ve attended. The first was by Nolan Ryan against the Dodgers in 1981, on national television. The other one was Mike Scott’s division-clinching masterpiece against the Giants in 1986. My son Stefan was with me for that one.
All three of my no-hitters were in September, when the games really count, but Kile’s had nothing of the drama of the others. It was a sparsely-attended weekday afternoon game with nothing much on the line, a business person’s special on getaway day.
No one could have imagined Kile would throw a no-hitter that afternoon. Personally I would have thought it was more likely that he would walk the bases loaded, hit a couple of batters, and give up a home run before getting anybody out. Let’s say he had a reputation for control problems at that stage of his career. His curve was unhittable, but why bother to swing at it if he couldn’t get it over?
I got a hot dog and a soda and was back to my seat in time for the anthem, an increasingly ugly moment at the ball park as guest singers reluctant to relinquish the microphone stretch it out longer and longer.
As soon as the first hitter stepped in, it was clear that Kile had his good stuff. The curve was breaking sharply, taking wicked nips at the corner, freezing hitters in their tracks. The ump could have called the game from my seat. A good-hitting Mets team looked helpless. They were.
After the last out I got to my car in time to hear Larry Dierker interview Kile. It was a bravura performance by Dierker. Kile was speechless, barely able to mumble a word or two in answer to any question. Fortunately, Dierker had thrown a no-hitter himself and knew exactly what Kile was feeling.
As of this writing, Kile’s was the last no-hitter thrown by an Astro. My own good fortune in having wandered by sheer accident into three of them both delights and humbles me. Some people, far better fans than I, watch baseball for decades and don’t get to see a no-hitter.
In 1997 Kile went 19-7 for the Astros, with a 2.57 ERA. Over the next two seasons, after signing for big bucks with the Colorado Rockies, he was 21-30, with an ERA over 6.00. He was a 20-game winner for the Cards in 2000.
Now, suddenly, he’s gone, but once, for a couple of hours on a September afternoon, he was an immortal.
David Vest writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He is a poet and piano-player for the Pacific Northwest’s hottest blues band, The Cannonballs.
He can be reached at: email@example.com
Visit his website at http://www.rebelangel.com