ST. LOUIS - Josh Hancock, a relief pitcher who helped the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series last season, died early yesterday when his sport utility vehicle slammed into the back of a tow truck.

The Cardinals postponed their home game last night against the Chicago Cubs. It was the second time in less than five years that a St. Louis pitcher died during the season. Darryl Kile was found dead in his hotel room in 2002.

Hancock pitched parts of two seasons for the Phillies. He made two appearances in 2003 and four appearances in 2004. The Phillies traded Hancock and Anderson Machado to the Cincinnati Reds on July 30, 2004, for Todd Jones and Brad Correll.

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

Police said the 29-year-old Hancock, who was single, 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 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 scheduled for Thursday in Tupelo, Miss., where Hancock's family lives.

"All of baseball today mourns the tragic and untimely death of St. Louis pitcher Josh Hancock," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. "He was a fine young pitcher who played an important role on last year's World Series championship team."

The Cardinals will wear patches with Hancock's No.32 on their sleeves for the rest of the season.

"Obviously, this is very difficult for all of us, especially those of us who were here five years ago when we lost Darryl Kile," said general manager Walt Jocketty. "There's no way we could have played tonight's game."

A Cardinals-Cubs game also was postponed in June 2002 after Kile died 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.

Three days before his death, the Cardinals got a scare that some teammates said reminded them of Kile's death - Hancock overslept and showed up late for a day game in St. Louis. Hancock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he thought the starting time was later and didn't get up until the "20th call" from anxious teammates.

Hancock joined the Cardinals in spring training last season after the Cincinnati Reds released him for violating a weight clause in his contract. He had been a starter the previous year with Cincinnati, but missed 133 games because of groin and elbow injuries. He also pitched for the Boston Red Sox.

The Phillies' memories. Several Phillies played with Hancock in triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and the majors.

Geoff Geary was Hancock's roommate in spring training 2004.

"We were battling for the same job," Geary said. "It was Ryan [Madson], Josh and I. We developed a bond. You're competing against each other, but ultimately it's out of our control. So what Ryan, Josh and I wanted to try to do was become friends and learn from one another.

"It hasn't really set in yet. I didn't believe it. I had to go on the Internet to see it before it really made sense. And it still doesn't make sense, to be honest with you."

Geary recalled Hancock as a prankster. He once got hold of Geary's rental-car keys and put baby powder in the car's air vents.

But Hancock did not hide his work well. Baby powder was everywhere, so Geary did not turn on the car and get covered with powder.

"It was more a matter of watching me try to clean out the rental car," Geary said.

"He was a lot of fun," Madson said. "I'll miss him."

Chase Utley also played with Hancock.

"My heart goes out to his family," he said. "Any time you lose somebody in the baseball world, it's difficult, but when you actually know the guy it's even more difficult. It's terrible. . . . He was a great guy. He was good guy on the field and off the field."

Staff writer Todd Zolecki contributed to this article.