On this date a decade ago, Cardinas pitcher Rick Ankiel returned to the mound for the first time after extreme wildness in a playoff game derailed his pitching career.
At Roger Dean Stadium he seemed like his old self from his 2000 rookie year with a blazing fastball and a wicked curve.
Sitting behind the Cardinals dugout, I don't think I was ever so nervous at a baseball game -- at least not until the deciding game of the 2006 Fall Classic. Ankiel looked tentative on the mound until he threw his first pitch, a strike high in the zone, past the batter. The crowd roared. Then he brought a sharp breaking ball that the hitter gave up on only to see it dart across the plate for strike two. The crowd roared again and Ankiel put his glove over his face to cover his ear-to-ear grin.
Then he went to the fastball again and finished the job. He got a standing ovation and seemed like in one moment he regained all of the confidence he had lost in his control -- and then some. Ankiel threw 9 pitches in two innings and 22 of them were strikes.
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Unfortunately, it didn't last. Ankiel was 1-2 with a 7-13 ERA in 2001 -- with 25 walks in 24 innings and five wild pitches thrown -- before being shipped off to the minor leagues to work on his control.
He would only appear in the majors as a pitchers again in 2004 in a short try to work his way back as a reliever. In 2005 he announced his retirement only to be talked into giving a career as an outfielder a try. By 2007 he made it back to the majors as a slugging flychaser. After two and a half more seasons with the Cardinals, he signed last year as a free agent with the Royals and was later traded to the Braves. This season he is trying to make the Nationals roster.