What do you do if you’re struggling with accuracy? Knock back a few drinks, of course. That’s what Rick Ankiel admitted he did at the start of the 2001 season to relieve some pressure following his famous meltdown with the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2000 postseason.
Ankiel was ranked the top MLB prospect by Baseball America entering the 2000 season and had a good rookie campaign at 20 years old, with an 11-7 record, 3.50 ERA, and 194 strikeouts in 175 innings. However, he threw nine wild pitches in four innings of playoff baseball.
Naturally, the young pitcher was not in a great place mentally the next time he took the mound the following April.
From 590 The Fan:
“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. Low and behold, it kind of tamed the monster, and I was able to do what I wanted. 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.”
Ankiel isn’t lying that his plan worked — at least the first time. In his first start of the 2001 season, Ankiel struck out eight as he got a win against the Diamondbacks.
So of course he tried it again the next time, but he threw a wild pitch and walked five batters in a loss to the Astros.
Ankiel was never the same on the mound, but he reinvented himself as an outfielder and actually carved out a respectable career, returning to the majors in 2007. He had 11 homers and an .863 OPS in 2007, and followed that up with 25 homers and an .843 OPS in 2008. He also used his great arm to be a weapon out of the outfield:
Quite a career path, right? Sounds like his new book “The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life” could have some good stories inside.