Former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel famously struggled with the yips after melting down in the 2000 NLDS. But what he wasn't famous for, until a recent interview with 590 The Fan in St. Louis, was his method for combating his wild pitching at the start of the 2001 season.
In an interview about his upcoming book The Phenomenon: Pressure, The Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life, Ankiel revealed that he drank vodka before taking the mound in a 2001 start against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“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 kind of crazy I have to drink vodka to pitch through this. It worked for that game.”
“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's last pitching appearance before that start against the Dbacks had come in the 2000 NLDS against the Atlanta Braves. As a 20-year-old rookie, he had pitched for a 3.50 ERA that season with 194 strikeouts and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. But his season took a turn when he threw five wild pitches in one inning during that playoff matchup and he never really recovered.
He did win his first vodka-infused start of the 2001 season, beating Randy Johnson and the eventual World Series champions that year, but he lost his next two starts after continuing to drink before games. He eventually gave up on pitching and came back as an outfielder in 2007.