| || Rick Ankiel's full name is Richard Alexander Ankiel, and his nickname is 'Ammerin Ank. Ankiel has one of the feel-good stories of the majors. As the top pitching prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals orginization, he was named the 2000 Players' Choice National League Rookie Pitcher of the Year. That year, the Cardinals won the NL Central Division.
In the 2000 NLDS, Ankiel's pitching career took a turn for the worse. With Rick and Darryl Kile being the only pitchers fully healthy on St. Louis's roster, manager Tony LaRussa wanted to maximize their appearances. In Game 1 against the Braves, the Cardinals jumped out to an early 6-0 lead against Greg Maddux. He allowed two walks in the first, and a double in the second, but escaped unscathed. It was in the third inning that things really began to unravel.
He walked four and threw FIVE passed balls in an inning. Here is the play-by-play.
Greg Maddux walked; Rafael Furcal popped to Will Clark in foul territory; Ankiel threw a wild pitch (Maddux to second); Ankiel threw a wild pitch (Maddux to third); Andruw Jones walked; Ankiel threw a wild pitch (A. Jones to 2nd); Chipper Jones was called out on strikes; Andrés Galarraga walked (Maddux scores, A. Jones to 3rd on wild pitch); Brian Jordan singled to Ray Lankford (A. Jones scored, Galarraga to 2nd); Ankiel threw a wild pitch (Galarraga to 3rd, Jordan to 2nd); Reggie Sanders walked; Walt Weiss singled to Lankford (Galarraga scored, Jordan scored, Sanders to 2nd); Mike James replaced Ankiel; Javy López popped to Fernando Viña; 4 R, 2 H, 0 E, 2 LOB. Braves 4, Cardinals 6
He joked after the game about tying the record for wild pitches in an inning. The truth was, Ankiel would never be the same again. In the NLCS, he threw seven pitches that went past the catcher in 2 innings.
St. Louis lost to the Mets in the NLCS, and Ankiel returned to the majors the following season. In his first 20 innings, he threw five wild pitches and walked 25, and was sent down to AAA. Here, his problem got reeeally bad.
In 4.1 innings, he threw 12 wild pitches and walked 17, accumulating an ERA of 20.77. He was sent down all the way to the Rookie level Johnson City Cardinals, where he was successful as a pitcher and DH. He was named the Rookie level Player of the Year.
In 2002, Ankiel sat the whole season with a left elbow sprain, and was finally cleared to pitch in December. He returned to the minors in 2003, posting a 6.20 ERA in 10 starts before undergoing season-ending ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (Tommy John surgery) for his left elbow in July. In 54.1 innings, he walked 49 batters and threw 10 wild pitches.
Ankiel returned to the majors in September 2004, posting a 5.40 ERA in five relief appearances. Ankiel's control was impressive, as he walked just one while striking out nine in ten innings. In the minors, similarly, he walked only two batters in 23.2 innings, while striking out 23.
On March 9, 2005, after a successful winter pitching in the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League, Ankiel announced that he was switching to the outfield, after an unsuccessful practice outing in which his wildness reappeared, as he threw only three strikes out of 20 pitches. He slugged .514 in single A, and .515 in double A, with 5 outfield assists in 55 games.
In 2006, Ankiel was invited to spring training with the major league squad again, but this time as an outfielder. He had a slim chance to make the team as a reserve player. His fielding impressed scouts and managers, and he had shown flashes of power hitting in the minor leagues. However, he injured his left knee before the season started; he had to have season-ending surgery on it on May 26, 2006.