ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rick Ankiel says he drank vodka before his first two starts in 2001 to quell anxiety after throwing five wild pitches in one inning during the previous season’s playoffs.
Ankiel detailed his experience during an interview with 590 The Fan on Monday.
Ankiel had a promising rookie season as a 20-year-old with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2000, but he lost his control in the postseason. He pitched the first game of an NL Division Series against Atlanta and became the first major leaguer with five wild pitches in one inning.
He said he was “scared to death” before his first start the next season against Randy Johnson and the Arizona Diamondbacks and turned to alcohol to suppress his nerves.
“I know I have no chance,” he said. “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.”
Ankiel pitched five innings and got the win against Arizona.
“I’m sitting on the bench feeling crazy, I have to drink vodka to pitch through this,” he added. “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.”
Ankiel drank again before his next start against Houston. This time, “anxiety took over the alcohol,” and he walked five, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch. He said he didn’t drink before games after that.
Ankiel has co-written a book, “The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips and the Pitch that Changed My Life,” with Tim Brown, which is set for release April 18.
The left-hander finished second in rookie of the year voting in 2000 before falling apart in the playoffs. After his lousy start against the Braves, he made two more appearances that postseason, walking five and throwing four more wild pitches over 1 1/3 innings.
Ankiel never regained his form and made his final pitching appearance in 2004. He returned to the Cardinals in 2007 as an outfielder and played in the majors until 2013.
“I think the overall lesson from the book is about getting back up,” Ankiel said. “You’re going to get knocked down … everyone gets knocked down.”
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