Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Walker and Ankiel

Well, I think we might be able to put to rest the two concerns I brought up yesterday morning. Let’s talk about them in the same order.

According to the Fox Sports Midwest broadcast of last night’s game, Larry Walker feels as if he will be ready to play on Friday. What’s more, the team said that if Tuesday’s game had been in the playoffs, Larry would have been in the lineup. Having a 16 and a half game lead (which grew to 17 and a half yesterday) has its advantages.

Second – and more interesting to me – was Rick Ankiel’s appearance last night. For the second night in a row, I stayed up way past my bedtime in the hopes of seeing Mr. Ankiel’s first outing in more than three years. Personally, I was not disappointed. As you have probably read by now, he pitched a shutout inning, giving up 1 hit, and throwing 12 strikes among his 15 pitches. Considering that the ump had a very tight strike zone last night (for both teams), that feat might be even better than it sounds. The hit that Ankiel gave up barely made it out of the infield – and it was the only ball that did. According to the FSN radar gun, Ankiel hit 94 with one of his fastballs, and 92 with several others. His curve appeared to be “flatter” to me than it was the last time I saw him pitch on TV (2000), but I could be mistaken.

When Ankiel left the game after his inning, it was great to see the team waiting for him in the dugout, ready to give him high fives and welcome him back to the team (again.) I personally found it a little interesting that the first two guys waiting for him at the steps were Reggie Sanders and Larry Walker. While I am not convinced that team chemistry is vital to winning, it is great to see a group of guys that get along so well.

So, while I’m not ready to say that Ankiel is 100% cured – well, how can you not be excited? He’s now had at least one successful outing in A, AA, AAA, and the majors. His fastball is back, and he’s throwing strikes. If he can keep it up over the next 3+ weeks, he will give the Cardinals the luxury of a backup plan in case Kline doesn’t get healthy, as well as a low cost option for the rotation next year in the event that Williams and/or Morris aren’t back.


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