SAUGET, Ill. - Three days before he was killed in a highway wreck, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock was involved in a predawn accident that police treated routinely.

Officers who talked with the 29-year-old reliever moments after the front of his sport utility vehicle was clipped by a tractor-trailer in this village known for its factories and strip clubs found Hancock lucid. He did not appear under the influence of alcohol, police chief Patrick Delaney said yesterday.

No sobriety or breath tests were given to Hancock, and no tickets were issued, Delaney said. The SUV was too damaged to drive home.

Early Sunday, Hancock was killed when the rented Ford Explorer he was driving slammed into a flatbed tow truck on Interstate 64 in St. Louis. Autopsy results had not been released, and toxicology tests were pending.

At about 5:30 a.m. on Thursday, while waiting for a cab to take him home after the accident in Sauget, Hancock told an officer he disliked night games followed by day games. The pitcher said he often drove around to make himself tired enough to rest, the chief said.

"He said how he hated - he used that word - to play day games after a night game, that he had trouble sleeping and was out driving around," Delaney said.

Hours later, Hancock showed up late at Busch Stadium for a day game against the Cincinnati Reds. He insisted he thought the starting time was later and had overslept in a new bed.

"The officers said they felt Josh was not impaired whatsoever," Delaney said. He said Hancock did not get preferential police treatment as a ballplayer, noting the responding officer "didn't know Josh Hancock from John Doe."

A memorial service for Hancock is set for tomorrow in Tupelo, Miss. The Cardinals are chartering a plane that will get them there in time for a lunch with the Hancock family.

A private funeral for the family is scheduled for today. *