The Fall and Rise of Rick Ankiel

AUGUST 9, 2007 | ST. LOUIS, MISSOURIRick Ankiel of the St. Louis Cardinals hit a dramatic 3-run home run on this date in 2007. It was the culmination of the fall and rise of Rick Ankiel. He had gone through an agonizing public collapse as a pitcher seven years earlier. It got so bad he gave up pitching, but he didn’t give up baseball.

Rick Ankiel was drafted out of high school by the Cardinals in 1997. He received a big signing bonus and progressed through the minor leagues fairly quickly. There was no hint of the trouble ahead. He was Minor League Player of the Year in 1999. Ankiel went 11-7 in 2000, his first full season with the Cardinals, striking out an average of 10 hitters every 9 innings.

The problems surfaced in the playoffs. Though only 20-years old when the season started Ankiel got the start in game one of the National League Division Series. That’s where the trouble started. He gave up a hit and two walks in the first, but got through unscathed, no problems in the second, but mysterious wildness that would eventually drive him from the mound started in the third.

Here’s how it went:

• Greg Maddux walks
• Rafael Furcal pops out
• Wild pitch
• Wild pitch
• Walks Andruw Jones
• Wild pitch
• Strikes out Chipper Jones
• Walks Andres Galarraga
• Brian Jordan singles
• Wild pitch
• Walks Reggie Sanders
• Walt Weiss singles
• (Ankiel relieved)

The Cardinals won the game, swept the series and Ankiel shrugged off his wildness, but he didn’t make it through the first inning of game two of the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets. Five of the first 20 pitches he threw went back to the screen, but only two were counted as wild pitches because no one was on base… yet. He was lifted after three walks and a double to drive in two.

Ankiel’s pitching troubles continued. He was sent down to the minors in 2001 and his wildness got worse. He finally gave up pitching in 2005. He became an outfielder, eventually making it back to the Cardinals and a tremendous reception on August 9, 2007. He drew a prolonged standing ovation in his first at-bat on this date. He popped out in his first at bat, struck out in his second and hit the 3-run homer in his 3rd plate appearance.

Rick Ankiel ended up playing 11 years in the majors, 7 of those were after the fall and rise of Rick Ankiel.

Cardinals-Padres, August 9, 2007
2000 NLDS Cardinals-Braves, Game 1, October 3, 2000
2000 NLCS Cardinals-Mets, Game 2, October 12, 2000

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