Pitcher's comeback season worthy of Cy Young consideration

Thursday, September 28th 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Make room for one more NL Cy Young candidate, the most unlikely of the bunch.

Darryl Kile was 8-13 with a 6.61 ERA last year for the Colorado Rockies, numbers so awful from a one-time 19-game winner they jump off the page. This year, he's put together a memorable comeback season for the St. Louis Cardinals, joining the usual suspects (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson) under consideration.

Kile, 19-9 entering Thursday's game in San Diego, doesn't carry the cache of the other three, so he thinks his chances are slim and none. He's not a multiple winner like Maddux or Glavine of the perennial playoff-bound Braves or a 300-strikeout freak like the 6-10 Johnson.

``Just to be considered is an honor,'' he said. ``I just think there's a few other pitchers that are having tremendous seasons that deserve more consideration.''

Not to pitching coach Dave Duncan, who said Kile's situation reminds him of Dave Stewart, who had four straight 20-win seasons with the Athletics in the 1980s but never got a Cy Young.

``He never really got fair consideration because of Roger Clemens,'' Duncan said. ``It was almost like, 'Well, it's Clemens, he should be the winner.'''

Judging from Kile's results, there's no doubt he belongs in the hunt. In one four-start stretch starting in mid-August, he threw three complete games, and two of them were against playoff-bound teams.

He scattered eight hits and two runs Aug. 27 against the NL East-leading Braves and threw a five-hitter Sept. 2 against the wild-card Mets. He also battled Johnson to a standoff in July, allowing one run in eight innings and entered his final start with a 3.79 ERA.

``He's been good for six months and he's been great at the end,'' manager Tony La Russa said. ``I've got to believe he's one of the guys you consider.''

Kile's overall ERA would be a lot more attractive except for a forgettable April return to Colorado in which he allowed eight earned runs in 1 2-3 innings and a loss to the Dodgers in May when he gave up eight runs in 5 2-3 innings.

Just don't ask Kile to buy into the rationalization.

``Any pitcher can say that,'' he said. ``That's part of being a consistent pitcher, you don't have those real bad games. The guys who are deserving aren't going to have games like that, in my mind anyway.''

That kind of talk can't help his chances. But it is consistent with his attitude, with the media at least, of declining credit and always taking the blame. He's a deliberately low-key, say-nothing interview, staying out of the headlines by chalking up big victories to luck and good defense.

To Kile, his vanishing curveball at altitude is a non-issue. He's consistently said he, and not the thin air, was to blame for his two-year trial in Denver.

``I'm just the kind of person that would rather talk about other people,'' Kile said. ``I'd rather talk about how great (Rick) Ankiel is doing or how great a year Mike Matheny is having or the great years Pat (Hentgen) and Garrett (Stephenson) have had and the opportunity the Cardinals have given me rather than talk about what I've done.

``Maybe it's superstitution, maybe I don't want to jinx anything. I don't know.''

Behind the scenes lurks a joker, always ready for hijinx to loosen things up. After one game, he bellowed Christmas carols in the clubhouse.

``I'd say he's probably the most colorful personality we have,'' catcher Mike Matheny said. ``He's fun to hang around with.''

Soon after he arrived, the Cardinals hung the No. 1 starter tag back on Kile, who won 19 games for the Astros in 1997. He'll also get the call in Game 1 of the playoffs, and Game 5 if the first round lasts that long.

Closer Dave Veres, who arrived with Kile from Colorado, expected great things.

``This winter, when I worked out with him, I could tell just from playing catch with him,'' Veres said. ``His curveball was back and his attitude was too, knowing he wasn't going to have to pitch in Colorado anymore.''

Duncan calls Kile's curve ball, the sea-level version, the best in the major leagues. He throws it consistently for strikes, foiling those who would try laying off it and sitting on the fastball.

``It's more like the breaking ball you used to see years ago, the real big breaking ball,'' Duncan said. ``You don't realize how good a pitch it is until you stand at home plate and look at it and try to imagine how anybody would hit it.''

Now that Kile has developed a changeup, there's a third pitch for batters to worry about.

``It's getting there,'' Kile said. ``If I'm in a jam and I need to throw an offspeed pitch the curveball is the first thing that pops into my head.''

Kile also has impeccable control with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than three to one. That's a huge change from last season, when he had 109 walks and 116 strikeouts, and it's helped him win even on some of the off-days.

``Guys that are the most consistent throughout the years have been able to win when they don't have their best stuff,'' Kile said. ``That's a goal I'm trying to get to.''


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