Viva El Birdos posted a rather fanciful 2007 season idea with Rick Ankiel at the center. Which got me thinking about the only time I saw Ankiel pitch in person.
I spent the second half of the 2000 season deployed to the Western Pacific on a submarine, so our sports news was spotty at best. I knew the Cardinals won the NL Central, and that they beat the Braves 3-0. I later figured out that they lost the NLCS to the Mets. My wife taped all 8 Cardinal games from that playoff year, and I watched the Braves series on my off-watch time, in the wardroom, with another officer who is a die-hard Cardinal fan.
Watching Ankiel self-destruct in Game 1 was disturbing. It was as if a switch in his head got shut off. All of a sudden he couldn't consistently throw strikes anymore. And it was between half-innings, too - he was fine in the first, then the wheels came off.
Only Rick knows if the shock La Russa's surprise announcement that he was pitching Game 1 of the NLDS in his rookie season is what eventually set him over the edge. I won't speculate on that. I know La Russa kicks himself for that decision; I believe he said as much in 'Three Nights in August'.
The other thing about Ankiel is I never felt about him the way I did about J.D. Drew. Drew had prodigious talent, but always seemed to be coasting; he could work harder, but why? Ankiel never came off as a spoiled rich kid. He knew he had talent, but he worked to use it. So as time went on and Ankiel struggled to regain his form, I rooted for him to make it all the way back.
And I was there when he did. September 7, 2004, at Petco Park against the hometown Padres. It started out shaky (leadoff single to center), but ended strong (sac bunt, popout, ground out). And I remember, even though I was sitting waaaaaayyy up in the rafters on the third base side, down the LF line, that the team met him at the top step to congratulate him as he left the field. The kid had made it back to the majors. There was, at least it seemed from 300 feet away, a genuine display of happy emotion for him and his success.
We know now that Sept 2004 was an Indian Summer; a last hurrah for Rick Ankiel the pitcher, a tantalizingly short glimpse into what might have been for the southpaw. And as he tries to play his way onto the ML roster as an outfielder, I sincerely hope he makes it. If only as a late inning defensive replacement and bat off the bench, I hope he makes it.
Trivia time. Answer to yesterday's question: Curt Flood (7), Willie McGee (3), Jim Edmonds (3). Obviously Jimmay has won more than 3 Gold Gloves, but I'm only counting the ones he won as a Cardinal.
Today's Question: Since I follow the Cardinals and live in Padre-ville, here's a question that touches both: Name the only two managers to take three teams to a pennant. Bonus if you can name the three teams each managed into the post season.
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