Choking, in my view, is what happens when someone faces a pressure situation and responds in an unusual and suboptimal way. Sometimes it’s more physical than mental – I know I missed a couple of wide open nets playing soccer back in the day — and sometimes it’s all mental. My opinion is that Yadier Molina choked when he decided to drop down a sac bunt in the top of the ninth inning down a run against the Padres last night.
Make no mistake: Molina had never before bunted in such a situation. Of the 42 sac bunt attempts he had made in his career, three had come with his team down a run. All three of those — one in 2005, one in 2006 and one in 2007* — had come with his team at home, when playing for the tie makes a lot more sense. They also all came when Molina was a lesser hitter than he is now.
So, Molina made a decision he wouldn’t normally make. It took place in the ninth inning of a big game with the Cardinals on the verge of being swept. And it hurt the Cardinals’ chances of winning (by drastically reducing the chances of a multi-run inning). That’s pretty much my definition of choking.
*(In case you were curious, he was successful on all three of those bunt attempts and two of them helped the Cardinals win the game. The 2005 bunt came in the seventh inning and led to a game-tying run, though given that two hits followed, one guesses they would have at least tied it regardless. In the 2006 game, Molina gave up the out in the ninth and the Cardinals went on to score two runs to win anyway. In the 2007 loss to the Pirates, Albert Pujols ended up popping up with the bases loaded to end it.)
The story of Rick Ankiel is well known by now. He was a phenom pitcher who burst onto the scene with the Cardinals in 1999 and into the 2000 season as one of the top young talents in the game. Then, in the 2000 playoffs, he melted down. He got the yips. Whatever you want to call it, he lost the ability to throw strikes and his pitching career was soon over. He came back, however, against all odds, and remade his career as a solid outfielder.
It’s inspirational and incredible. But there is a lot more to the story that we’ve ever known. We will soon, however, as Ankiel is coming out with a book. Today he took to the airwaves and shared some about it. Including some amazing stuff:
On drinking in his first start after the famous meltdown in Game One of the 2000 National League division series against the Braves:
“Before that game…I’m scared to death. I know I have no chance. Feeling the pressure of all that, right before the game I get a bottle of vodka. I just started drinking vodka. Low and behold, it kind of tamed the monster, and I was able to do what I wanted. I’m sitting on the bench feeling crazy I have to drink vodka to pitch through this. It worked for that game. (I had never drank before a game before). It was one of those things like the yipps, the monster, the disease…it didn’t fight fair so I felt like I wasn’t going to fight fair either.”
Imagine spending your whole life getting to the pinnacle of your career. Then imagine it immediately disintegrating. And then imagine having to go out and do it again in front of millions. It’s almost impossible for anyone to contemplate and, as such, it’s hard to judge almost anything Ankiel did in response to that when he was 21 years-old. That Ankiel got through that and made a career for himself is absolutely amazing. It’s a testament to his drive and determination.
A couple of weeks ago our president wrote one of his more . . . vexing tweets. He was talking about immigration when he whipped out the phrase . . . “Easy D”:
No one was quite sure what he meant by Easy D. Was it the older brother of N.W.A.’s founder? The third sequel to that Emma Stone movie from a few years back? So many questions!
Baseball Twitter had fun with it, though, with a lot of people wondering how they could work it in casually to their commentary:
It wasn’t a scout who did it, but twelve days after that, a player obliged Mr. McCullough:
I have no more idea what Turner was talking about with that than Trump was. We’ll have to wait for the full story in the L.A. Times. But I am going to assume Turner was doing McCullough a solid with that one rather than commenting on the president’s tweet. Either way, I’m glad he made the effort.
And before you ask: yes, it’s a slow news day.