I've always had a fondness for one Darryl Kile, even if he was the first big pitcher I can remember to leave via free agency after having a huge season. That was back in 1997, when Kile anchored the rotation for the first division winner since 1986, made the All-Star team and finished fifth in the Cy Young voting.
Oh, and he won 19 games that season, which is why we're talking about him before Game No. 19. Kile went 19-7 that season with a 2.57 ERA in 255 innings with 205 strikeouts.That's the most innings by an Astros starter in the last 15 years and just the 15th time in franchise history a guy had topped 255 innings.
It's hard to argue against the actual winners of the Cy Young that season, as Pedro Martinez took the title with 305 strikeouts for Montreal, coupled with a 1.90 ERA. All five of the top finishers in the Cy Young voting that season had ERAs under 3.00, with both Denny Neagle and Maddux winning at least 19 games. Oh, and Curt Schilling rounded things out with his own 300 strikeout season.
So, Kile was in some elite company that season. In the 15 years since Kile's magical run, only three pitchers posted seasons of at least 200 strikeouts. Shane Reynolds did it in 1998, Roy Oswalt did it twice in 2002 and 2004 with Roger Clemens also topping 200 Ks that season.
Want more? Only two pitchers have posted ERAs under 2.60 since Kile's 1997 season (Clemens and Pettitte in 2005) and only 12 pitchers have done it in franchise history in at least 150 innings. Want a better way to compare eras, since Kile pitched a great pitcher's park in the Astrodome? Only four pitchers managed ERA+ totals better than Kile's 156 that season. That list includes both Clemens and Pettitte, Danny Darwin in 1990 and Mike Scott in 1986.
Despite all that, Kile left Houston that winter, signing a three-year deal worth about $22 million. He spent two mediocre seasons in Colorado before getting traded to the Cardinals, where he pitched much better. But, he was never really as brilliant as he was in that 1997 campaign, when he came just short of winning 20 games.