Get excited about Rick Ankiel's pitching comeback by remembering just how nasty he was on the mound
Last Wednesday, former pitcher-turned-outfielder Rick Ankiel briefly returned to the mound during the Bluegrass World Series and struck out the only batter he faced. Both this outing and his work with kids have inspired him to take one more shot at making it back to the Majors as a reliever in 2019.
There's no doubt that Ankiel faces long odds. He's 39 already and he hasn't pitched professionally since 2004. However, there's a reason that he was Baseball America's No. 1 prospect heading into the 2000 campaign and went on to finish runner-up for National League Rookie of the Year at age 20 -- his left arm was something to behold.
Don't believe us? Take a look at these five GIFs from Ankiel's emergence.
Fanning the NL's best
Ankiel was just a month and a half removed from his 20th birthday when he faced the Braves on Sept. 8, 1999. This was during the Braves' decade of dominance, when they won one championship and five more NL pennants, including the '99 flag later that season.
They managed to beat Ankiel on Sept. 8, but not without the kid setting a then-career high with nine strikeouts. He had outfielders Andruw Jones and Gerald Williams swinging at air.
The hellacious hook
Ankiel's curve helped propel him to 194 strikeouts in 2000, setting an all-time record for Cardinals rookies that still stands. Backed by their breakout star, the Cardinals won 95 games for the first time since 1987 and captured their second NL Central division title.
That kind of quick-moving fastball on the Brewers' Lyle Mouton deserves a closer look.
From the side
Perhaps it shouldn't surprise anyone that Mouton had three at-bats in his career against Ankiel and struck out every single time. Can you blame him?
The Padres were rendered helpless in Ankiel's last start of the 2000 regular season, as he fanned eight batters (including 31-homer hitter and current Yankees third-base coach Phil Nevin) in six shutout innings.
That outing in San Diego was the last time Ankiel looked that overpowering on a big league mound. He struggled with control in the 2000 postseason and never overcame his yips, pitching just 34 more MLB innings before becoming a position player in 2005.
His later stint as an outfielder did, however, allow him to showcase his quite-imposing arm strength:
Ankiel's arm still commanded a presence during his last MLB season in 2013 with the Mets:
Fingers crossed that Ankiel has more memories to make with that left arm.