PHOENIX -- Rick Ankiel, the St. Louis pitcher turned hitter who has been pounding the ball since he was brought up by the Cardinals late this season, received a 12-month supply of human growth hormone in 2004 from a Florida pharmacy that was part of a national illegal prescription drug-distribution operation, the New York Daily News reported on Friday morning.The newspaper, quoting records and sources, said that Ankiel had received eight shipments of HGH from Signature Pharmacy in Orlando from the beginning to the end of 2004. Signature is at the center of a two-year investigation into illegal Internet prescription drug sales by Albany District Attorney David Soares that has resulted in 22 indictments and nine convictions, the News said. The allegations, if true, would not have been covered under Major League Baseball's Joint Drug and Prevention Policy because HGH wasn't banned until the program was renegotiated by MLB and the Players Association for the first time after the 2004 season. That season, there was also no penalty if a Major League player initially tested positive for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. In any event, there's no known blood or urine test that accurately isolates the use of HGH, and MLB has funded a study by a West Coast lab, which has been trying for several years to develop more advanced testing. Ankiel continued his hot streak on Thursday when he amassed seven RBIs on two homers and a double as the Cardinals buried the Pirates, 16-4, at Busch Stadium. The Cards pulled within a game of the first-place Cubs and Brewers in the National League Central and open a three-game series against the Diamondbacks here on Friday night, where the Ankiel revelations are sure to be a hot topic of conversation. Ankiel has been a prime reason for the comeback of the defending World Series champions. St. Louis was 6 1/2 games out and seven games under .500 on Aug. 10, the day Ankiel began his comeback. He's hit nine homers in 81 at bats since then. Ankiel reportedly received the drugs legally -- it is against the law to procure a number of performance-enhancing drugs banned by the U.S. Congress without a prescription. The News said that "Ankiel's prescriptions were signed by Florida physician William Gogan, who provided them through a Palm Beach Gardens clinic called 'The Health and Rejuvenation Center,' or 'THARC.' The drugs were shipped to Ankiel at the clinic's address." Ankiel has not been charged with any crime, the newspaper said. Many athletes and bodybuilders use HGH for its regenerative qualities with the hope that it will help them recover from injuries quicker. Contacted by the News, Ankiel's agent, Scott Boras, said he wasn't aware of the allegations. Walt Jocketty, the Cardinals general manager, told the newspaper: "This is the first I've heard of this. If it's true, obviously it would be very tragic, along with everything else we've had happen to us this year." The Cardinals, who defeated the Tigers in five games to win the World Series this past October, have been beset by off-field problems and injuries since then. It began with the DUI arrest this past March of manager Tony La Russa and reached its zenith a month later when reliever Josh Hancock was killed in an automobile accident in which he was also driving under the influence. Along the way, former Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter, pitcher Josh Kinney, third baseman Scott Rolen and outfielders Juan Encarnacion and Preston Wilson were all lost to serious injury. Those five players are currently on the 60-day disabled list. Ankiel would not be the only baseball player ensnared this year in the Albany investigation. Then-newly-signed Angels center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. was named on Feb. 27 in a newspaper report of an investigation of a drug lab -- Applied Pharmacy Services in Mobile, Ala., -- for selling HGH illegally. Matthews' alleged involvement with the drug dated back to procuring it via the Internet, also during the 2004 season. Matthews spent more than two weeks investigating his rights in the matter before releasing a written statement at the club's Spring Training base in Tempe, Ariz., saying that he had never taken the drug "during the 2004 season or any other time." MLB never attempted to discipline Matthews and Angels officials said they were satisfied with the statement. There have been no other revelations about Matthews since then. The Ankiel allegation again brings to the forefront a major issue that former U.S. Senator George Mitchell and a committee of lawyers has been investigating for the past 18 months at the behest of Commissioner Bud Selig. Selig charged Mitchell with determining who did what and when during MLB's so-called steroids era and has asked him to produce a report on those findings. While Mitchell has had little help from the players, who have declined to testify and produce medical records, he has said he's in the final phase of generating the report, which could be made available by the end of the year.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.