Best Cardinals Player

Rick Ankiel

Few Cardinals fans will forget that hot night of August 9, when Rick Ankiel, who hadn't appeared in a major-league game for nearly three years, strode to the plate in the seventh inning against San Diego and uncorked a three-run blast to seal the game for the Redbirds. A goose bump-inducing curtain call from a delirious crowd ensued. It was a storybook return, a true Roy Hobbs moment. At his postgame news conference, manager Tony La Russa, on the verge of tears, said, "I'm fighting my butt off to keep it together." Two days later Ankiel's remarkable and improbable reinvention from pitcher to outfielder continued, with two home runs against the Dodgers and a sparkling catch in right field. Another victory seized by a desperate team that had just returned home reeling from a horrid 1-5 trip to Pittsburgh and Washington. Five years in the minors, his epic collapse as a pitcher, the Tommy John elbow surgery, the heartbreak and humiliation — all of it washed clean. Yes, Mr. Fitzgerald, there are second acts in America. St. Louis general manager Walt Jocketty called it "a feel-good story," but it was so much more than that. In his quest for redemption, Ankiel ignited Cardinal Nation with sparks of hope, while giving his teammates a reason to think a nightmarish season might yet conclude in glory.
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