When 20-year-old southpaw Rick Ankiel made his major-league debut on August 23rd, 1999 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, he had already earned a reputation as the top pitching prospect in all of baseball. After going 11-1 with a 0.47 ERA in his senior year at Port St. Lucie (Fla) High School, Ankiel was taken in the second round of the June 1997 draft by St. Louis, turning down a University of Miami baseball scholarship to sign with the Redbirds. It took little more than a season and a half for Ankiel to shoot through the Cardinals' farm system in a minor-league career littered with encomium (he was named Minor League Player of the Year in 1999 by USA Today and Baseball America and was the Cardinals' Minor-League Pitcher of the Year in both 1998 and 1999).
Armed with a lively mid-90s fastball, a devastating sharp breaking curve and a developing changeup, Ankiel fanned 194 batters in just 137 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 1999. After posting a 3.47 ERA in 33 innings in his first taste of major league action that season, he won the fifth spot in the Cardinals' starting rotation the following spring and went 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA to help St. Louis to an NL Central Championship, improving as the season progressed. Ankiel also flashed his talent at the plate, batting .231 with two home runs.
All that kept Ankiel from true dominance was an unsettling tendency to lose command of the strike zone. He yielded just 137 safeties while notching 194 strikeouts in 175 innings, but flirtations with wildness led to 90 bases on balls. The control problems plagued him in two post-season starts. Handed a 6-0 lead in Game Two of the club's Division Series matchup with Atlanta, Ankiel endured a nigsource.htmarish second inning in which he threw five wild pitches -- something no major-league pitcher had done in one inning since Bert Cunningham of the Players' League in 1890. Given another start in Game Two of the NLCS against the Mets, Ankiel again couldn't find the plate, allowing three walks another two wild pitches before getting lifted with two outs in the first inning. Manager Tony LaRussa elected not to start him again in the playoffs, hoping to avoid damaging the confidence of his immensely talented young hurler, but Ankiel was summoned for a relief appearance in Game Five and promptly uncorked two more wild pitches. (AGL)
FROM THE BASEBALL CHRONOLOGY
»June 3, 1997:
The Anaheim Angels take Troy Glaus, UCLA 3B with the 3rd pick. The Giants, use 4th to take Seton Hall pitcher Jason Grilli, son of former ML pitcher Steve Grilli. Toronto uses #5 on Texas high schooler Vernon Wells. The Mets have the 6th pick and pick Tampa high schooler Geoff Goetz, nixing another Florida pitcher Rick Ankiel because he is being advised by agent Scott Boras: Ankiel goes to the Cards at #72 (2nd round). Number seven is the Royals and they take U of the Pacific fireballer Dan Reichert. Number 10 Jon Garland, considered possibly the best high school pitching prospect in the draft, goes to the Cubs, who will swap him to the White Sox next July. The Reds take Scott Williamson on the 9th round.
»October 3, 1999:
It lasts just five innings, but the Cardinals (74-88)defeat the Cubs (67-95), 9-5, as both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa homer in their last game of the season. McGwire takes Steve Trachsel deep in the 1st and finishes with 65 home runs, with Sosa next in line with 63, homering in the 3rd. McGwire's home run is his 522nd moving him past Ted Williams and Willie McCovey for 10th place on the All-time list finishes with 147 RBIs on 145 hits, the first player ever to have more ribbies than hits; Jay Buhner, in 1995, came closest with 121 RBI on 123 hits. Last year McGwire drove in 147 runs on 152 hits. Starter Larry Luebbers earns the win for the Cards with just four innings of work, a rarity. Rick Ankiel saves it after Luebbers pitches to three batters in the 5th. More than 145,000 fans watched the 3-game set with the cubs, giving the Cards a franchise-record 3,230,356 for 79 dates.
»May 10, 2000:
Richard Ankiel, father of Cardinals rookie P Rick Ankiel, is arrested for allegedly throwing a loaded handgun from his car. The elder Ankiel is soon to begin serving an almost 6-year sentence for participating in a cocaine and marijuana trafficking operation.
»October 3, 2000:
The Cardinals defeat the Braves, 7-5, in the 1st game of their NL division series. St. Louis scores six runs in the 1st inning off Greg Maddux, then hold on as the Braves take advantage of Rick Ankiel's wildness to get back in the game. Ankiel becomes the pitcher in 110 years to throw five wild pitches in an inning.