Ankiel does it all in win
Slugger shines on offense, defense in Cards' first victory
ST. LOUIS -- Rick Ankiel showed off all five of baseball's archetypal tools on Wednesday night. If he masters the "seven skills" -- and after just 267 big league at-bats, he's getting there -- look out.
Save for an error in center field, Ankiel did it all in the Cardinals' 8-3 win over the Rockies. He collected three base hits, hit a home run, made a quality baserunning play and a spectacular catch, and showed off his throwing arm.
That's the five tools -- hitting for average, hitting for power, running, fielding and throwing -- all displayed in the space of three hours. That's a pretty exciting player.
"He's as natural as it gets playing baseball," said starting pitcher Todd Wellemeyer.
The seven skills include plate discipline and fielding broken into two areas: reliability and range. It's fair to say he showed six of the seven on Wednesday, and if not for the error, would have been perfect on that count as well.
Ankiel's pure ability to play the game is staggering, but even the most spectacularly talented player needs refinement as well. That's what stands out about Ankiel. He's polishing his game. He's learning strike zone judgment and learning how to work an at-bat. He's becoming a tougher out.
"He's a good player, man," said Ryan Ludwick, who has played with Ankiel at Triple-A Memphis and in St. Louis. "I've heard some people say they thought last year was a fluke and they want to see him do it again this year. He works too hard and he's too good of an athlete for good things not to happen to him. He's a great guy, just a great player."
Best of all for the Cardinals, Ankiel wasn't alone. Wellemeyer pitched five effective innings in his first start of the year, Ludwick had three hits and three RBIs, Albert Pujols reached base five times and the St. Louis bullpen bent a little but didn't break.
"Everybody helped, did something," manager Tony La Russa said.
Still, the story was Ankiel, who in his second Major League season as an outfielder continues to develop in all facets of the game.
He started with the arm, which is appropriate given his history. After Yorvit Torrealba doubled in the top of the second inning, Jayson Nix flied to Ankiel. The center fielder let go a bullet of a throw that hit third baseman Troy Glaus' glove for a strike on one hop, and Torrealba didn't even consider trying for the extra base.
"That throw he made from center field was a laser," La Russa said.
In his first time up, Ankiel quickly fell behind in the count, 0-2. But he fouled off four pitches, took a ball to get to 1-2, and laced a single up the middle for the first Cardinals hit of the game. He then motored aggressively to third base on Yadier Molina's single, putting himself in position to score when Adam Kennedy grounded into a force play.
In the top of the next inning, Ankiel showed off his range in the field, tracking down a Willy Taveras liner and making a spectacular diving catch.
"I'm just hoping he got a good jump on it," Wellemeyer said. "I know [Taveras] hit the ball well. After he caught that, I wanted to run out there and give him five, but I can't."
Brad Hawpe tied the game with a solo homer in the top of the fourth, but in the bottom half of the inning, Ankiel worked another deep count before matching Hawpe. He ripped a 2-2 offering from Cook 372 feet to right field, putting St. Louis back ahead for good.
Wellemeyer made the lead stand in the fifth, and the Cards added two more in the sixth. Ludwick hit an RBI triple and scored on Glaus' sacrifice fly.
"I started feeling better toward the end of spring," Ludwick said. "My timing started getting better. I started seeing the ball better and putting better swings on the ball. Tonight was a good night for me and the team."
Colorado pulled within a run, but the Cardinals tacked on four more runs in the eighth to put the game out of reach. It was the first game at new Busch Stadium not to sell out, ending a string of 165 consecutive regular-season sellouts in St. Louis. The last non-sellout was Sept. 28, 2005, at the previous Busch Stadium.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.