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Former pitcher Rick Ankiel drank vodka before beating Randy Johnson, D-backs

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Posted at 11:49 AM, Feb 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-21 13:52:17-05

The Arizona Diamondbacks are responsible for the Valley's first and only "Big 4" sports championship as a result of winning the 2001 World Series.

That's why few people remember the D-backs got off to a slow start that season -- and on Monday, we learned that was thanks in part to an opposing pitcher who had some alcohol in his system during a win over the D-backs in Phoenix.

Former pitcher Rick Ankiel had a stellar start to his MLB career, as he posted back-to-back seasons with an ERA under 3.50 for the St. Louis Cardinals. But the rails came off for Ankiel during in the 2000 MLB playoffs when he threw five wild pitches in a single inning. 

Ankiel was never the same on the mound after that inning and he would eventually move to the outfield and go on to have a successful hitting career. But in his upcoming book called "The Phenomenon: Pressure, The Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life," he talks about some extreme ways he tried to cope with his psychological issues that overcame him that day.

He previewed that book on 590 The Fan, a St. Louis radio station, on Monday. Notably, he revealed he drank vodka before his next MLB start, on April 8, 2001 in Phoenix against the Arizona Diamondbacks, with Randy Johnson as the opposing pitcher. 

What's more, Ankiel was the winning pitcher in that game, as the Cardinals defeated Johnson and the D-backs 9-4. The loss dropped Arizona to 2-4 on the season.

"Before the game, I'm scared to death. I know I have no chance," Ankiel told 590 The Fan. "Feeling the pressure of all that, right before the game, I got a bottle of vodka. I just started drinking vodka, and lo and behold, it kind of tamed the monster and I was able to do what I wanted."

Ankiel got the victory in that game against future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, who didn't have his best stuff that day. Ankiel yielded two runs on three hits in five innings while striking out eight Diamondbacks. A two-run home run by Matt Williams accounted for the only runs Ankiel yielded in the game.

Ankiel said it was the first time he'd ever consumed alcohol before a start, and after he was removed from the game, he had time to reflect on what had just happened.

"I'm sitting on the bench feeling kind of crazy like, 'This is crazy. I've got to drink vodka to just try to pitch through this.' It worked for that game," he said.

"It's one of those things where, you know, you just feel like the yips, the monster, this disease -- it didn't fight fair. So I felt like, well, you know what? I'm not gonna fight fair, either."

Ankiel said he drank again before his next start, but he quickly realized this was not a sustainable solution, and his pitching career soon fizzled out entirely.

"I just started throwing balls again. The anxiety, the pressure, it overcame the alcohol," he said. "And then I knew, OK, it doesn't matter. I've got to do this the right way. There's no way around it.

"The monster is so powerful that it can overcome everything, and it just started to overcome, and I could feel it."

As fate would have it, the Diamondbacks went on to defeat the Cardinals (minus Ankiel, who had been relegated to the minor leagues) in the National League Division Series that year en route to their dramatic seven-game series against the New York Yankees in the 2001 World Series.