16) Rick Ankiel’s First Home Run Since Returning to the Majors
Coming into the 2000 season, all the hype in St. Louis was centered around a young lefty who was poised to anchor the starting pitching staff and lead the Cardinals to the postseason. Rick Ankiel was a 20-year-old phenom who looked the part of future staff ace and showed immense promise during that season, posting a 3.50 ERA and 3.4 WAR in 175 innings pitched.
Then game 1 of the 2000 NLDS happened. Rick Ankiel threw five wild pitches in the third inning leading to two unearned runs. What could have been chalked up to a bad inning became much more. It became the moment Ankiel lost his touch. A downward spiral ensued, pushing Ankiel back to AAA where he would stay with minimal success until 2007.
That year marked the end of Rick Ankiel, the pitcher, and the beginning of Rick Ankiel, the outfielder. After belting 32 home runs in AAA, Ankiel got the call to St. Louis to make his second Major League debut. On August 9, 2007 in the 7th inning, Ankiel broke away from the “failed prospect” tag. A three-run home run in the 7th inning off Doug Brocail of the San Diego Padres marked the new Rick Ankiel. The incredible story to get back to the big leagues after alcoholism and the yips destroyed his ability on the mound left St. Louis with goosebumps and excitement for their newest phenom.
1) David Freese’s Walkoff Home Run in Game 6
The 2011 season for the Cardinals still feels like a dream in St.Louis. How did that happen? A mostly disappointing season capped by a historic run to a Wild Card Berth was enough to shock fans. But what happened in the playoffs made that season unbelievable. Chris Carpenter’s shutout in game 5 of the NLDS to stun the best team in baseball, David Freese’s huge NLCS, and the Rally Squirrel sent this team to another Fall Classic that it probably shouldn’t have been in (i.e. 2006). But, nonetheless, they were there.
A back-and-forth series came back to St. Louis for Game 6 with the Rangers up three games to two. A bevy of errors and mistakes put the Rangers on the brink of their first World Championship in franchise history. Going into the ninth with a two-run lead and one of the best closers in baseball, Neftali Feliz, meant the World Series was all but over. A double by Albert Pujols and a walk to Lance Berkman set up NLCS MVP and hometown kid David Freese to save the season. Down to their final strike, a triple over the head of Nelson Cruz in right field gave the Cardinals new life and immediately became one of the best moments in Cardinals history.
The tenth inning quickly turned momentum back towards the Rangers after a Josh Hamilton 2-run home run put them back in the driver’s seat. After scrapping together a run in the bottom half of the inning, Texas native and Houston legend, Lance Berkman, became a St. Louis legend as well. Down to their final strike again with Jon Jay on second, Berkman blooped one into shallow center field to tie the game at nine.
Fast forward to the 12th inning of the game that has already become one of the best in baseball history when the man who carried his hometown team to this point steps up to the plate to lead off the inning. The excitement in Busch Stadium radiated to the rest of the nation. The ups and downs of the previous five hours needed to come to a close. Facing the Rangers’ least-used reliever, Mark Lowe, Freese put together a great at-bat. Going to a 3-2 count full of great swings by Freese gave all those watching a feeling that something was about to happen.
“Freese hits it in the air to center, and we will see you tomorrow night!” This call by Joe Buck quoting his father from game 6 of the 1991 World Series was the perfect call, for the perfect moment. The hometown kid saved the season for his team once again and sent them to the Game 7 that won them the 2011 World Series.
Verdict: 1) Freese’s Walk-off in Game 6 over 16)Rick Ankiel’s First Home Run as an Outfielder
No 16 seed has ever defeated a number one seed in college basketballs March Madness, and it isn’t happening here. Ankiel’s home run was a fantastic story of determination and his book about his journey, The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life is definitely worth the read. But Freese’s walkoff provided tears of joy after hours of nervousness for not only Cardinal Nation, but the sports world as well. Game 6 is arguably the greatest game in the history of baseball. Capping a magical run to the postseason and to the World Series, David Freese is forever a legend in his hometown of St. Louis and this moment still stands as the greatest this city has ever seen.
*All Stats Courtesy of Fangraphs