St. Louis Cardinals: Rick Ankiel Drank Before Pitching in 2001
Former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel admitted to drinking alcohol before a couple of games in 2001 after his infamous collapse in 2000.
The St. Louis Cardinals had one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball during the late 90’s and he made his major league debut in 1999. Every Cardinals fan knew of Rick Ankiel because of his talents but by the year 2001, every baseball fan knew of him for his epic collapse in 2000.
Ankiel won 11 games and struck out 194 batters in 175 innings in the year 2000. He was a 20-year old rookie who threw hard and threw from the left side. He was highly coveted by the Cardinals organization and was a fan favorite.
He ended up being named the Game 1 starter of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves. His collapse began here when he made history by throwing five wild pitches in one inning. By the end of the postseason, Ankiel totaled nine wild pitches in only four innings. After that, he was never the same.
On Monday, Ankiel opened up about the experience on 590 The Fan. He was on the show discussing his upcoming book “The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life,” that will be released in mid April. The book is also co-written with sports writer Tim Brown.
While discussing the book, Ankiel recalled that infamous playoff experience and talked about how he ended up turning to alcohol before his first two starts in 2001. His first game in 2001 was against the Arizona Diamondbacks and elite lefty Randy Johnson. Ankiel was the winning pitcher and he said before that game he drank vodka in hopes to calm his nerves.
“Before that game … I’m scared to death. I know I have no chance. Feeling the pressure of all that, right before the game I get a bottle of vodka. I just started drinking vodka. Lo and behold, it kind of tamed the monster, and I was able to do what I wanted,” he said during the radio interview.
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“I’m sitting on the bench feeling crazy I have to drink vodka to pitch through this. It worked for that game. I had never drank before a game before. It was one of those things like the yips, the monster, the disease … it didn’t fight fair, so I felt like I wasn’t going to fight fair either.”
He then added he tried this method again before his second start against the Houston Astros. However, it wasn’t successful and his anxiety and control issues returned. On 590 The Fan, Ankiel stated he started throwing balls again against the Astros and that was when the “anxiety took over the alcohol.” He then realized that drinking wasn’t the answer.
Ankiel’s last major league appearance as a pitcher came in 2004. He made five appearances as a reliever. His career then changed drastically and he returned to the major leagues as an outfielder in 2007. He actually showed quite a bit of talent with his incredible arm and his left-handed power. Ankiel’s abilities landed him jobs with the St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals, Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Houston Astros and the New York Mets before he left the game.
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Ankiel’s incredible rise to the majors as a pitcher is now overshadowed by his catastrophic collapse. However, his book that releases April 18th is an inspirational story about never giving up. Ankiel has rarely discussed his experiences publicly but will now publish his perspective throughout his entire career. If interested in Ankiel’s story, his book should be a fantastic read and for you fans that have a hazy memory of the pitcher-turned-outfielder, a YouTube search will do wonders.