Former major leaguer Rick Ankiel said Monday that he drank vodka before his first two starts of the 2001 season for the St. Louis Cardinals, which came after his meltdown in the 2000 playoffs when he became the first major league pitcher to throw five wild pitches in one inning since 1890.
Ankiel made his comments to 590 The Fan while discussing his upcoming book, "The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life," co-written with sports writer Tim Brown. The book will be released on April 18.
"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. Lo and behold, it kind of tamed the monster, and I was able to do what I wanted," he said in the radio interview.
"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."
He said he also drank before his second start, but his problems returned in that game, in which he took the loss against the Houston Astros.
He said he started throwing balls again in that start as the "anxiety took over the alcohol," and he realized after that start that drinking wasn't an answer for his problems.
Ankiel made his major league pitching debut at age 19 in August 1999 when he faced the Expos in Montreal.
The hard-throwing lefty won 11 games and struck out 194 in 175 innings as a 20-year-old rookie in 2000.
He was named the surprise starter for Game 1 of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, against whom he had his historic inning in which he threw five wild pitches. In all, he threw nine wild pitches in four innings during the 2000 playoffs and never really was the same after that. He made his last appearance as a major league pitcher in 2004, working in five games as a reliever.
He later returned to the major leagues as an outfielder in 2007 with the Cardinals and played the position for St. Louis, the Kansas City Royals, Atlanta, the Washington Nationals, Houston Astros and New York Mets.
Ankiel said Monday that his book is about never giving up.
"I think the overall lesson from the book is about getting back up. You're going to get knocked down ... everyone gets knocked down."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.