Rick Ankiel Says He Drank Before Games, Talks Anxiety of Pitching

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2017

8 Apr 2001:  Rick Ankiel #66 of the St. Louis Cardinals winds back to pitch the ball during the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at the Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Diamondbacks 9-4.Mandatory Credit: Todd Warshaw  /Allsport
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

Former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel said he needed alcohol to calm his nerves at the start of the 2001 season.

In an interview on The Ryan Kelley Morning After on 590 The Fan, Ankiel explained his drinking before the game in his first start of the year as a 21-year-old:

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.

The pressure came from his struggles during the 2000 postseason. Ankiel was named the Game 1 starter of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves after an impressive season where he posted a 3.50 ERA with an 11-7 record.

Unfortunately, his first playoff start was nothing short of a breakdown. He only lasted 2.2 innings while walking six batters and totaling five wild pitches, several of them going straight to the backstop. He got a couple more chances in that postseason but finished with a 15.75 ERA in three appearances, featuring 11 walks in four innings and nine wild pitches.

The next regular-season start was when he said he drank to survive the anxiety. He finished with a win after allowing two runs in five innings, outdueling Randy Johnson in a year the Hall of Famer won the NL Cy Young award.

"It worked for that game," Ankiel said. "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 also said he drank again before his next start, but it was ineffective, so he stopped. The rest of his pitching career didn't go quite as well, with that game being his last win as a starter. He finished with six starts in 2001 and made five relief appearances with the Cardinals in 2004.

On the plus side, Ankiel reestablished himself as an outfielder in 2007 and spent seven more years in the major leagues. The 37-year-old has a book coming out entitled The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips and the Pitch that Changed My Life.