Former major leaguer Rick Ankiel has a book coming out about his life in April, called The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life, and it promises to be a good read. Ankiel, of course, had two distinct chapters in his career, the first being a left-handed pitcher with great stuff but often no corresponding ability to control where his pitches went. This conundrum famously manifested itself in Game 1 of the 2000 NLCS against the Braves, in which he walked six of the 16 batters he faced and threw five wild pitches. He was just 21 years old at the time.
Ankiel previewed the book's contents and reminisced Monday with the Ryan Kelley Morning After radio show in St. Louis, and along the way admitted that he drank a lot of vodka before his first appearance of the 2001 season. It happened to be Ankiel's first start since his legendary playoff meltdown for the Cardinals the previous October.
"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 posted OK numbers in his vodka start, allowing two runs, three hits, and three walks over five innings in a 9-4 victory against the Diamondbacks. Ankiel's non-wild performance was even praised as the lead item in the New York Times MLB roundup the next day.
Booze wasn't a cure-all however, and repeated wildness overshadowed his final five starts as a major league pitcher in '01. Lack of command, along with injuries, also marked the beginning of his transformation into a full-time outfielder, which took about six years to bear fruit. Ankiel's MLB rebirth was one of the feel-good stories of 2007, and he had a truly great full season as a hitter in 2008. Along the way, Ankiel still made use of his arm, completing some of the best throws from the outfield ever recorded on video. He retired after the 2013 season.