August 29, 2011
Former Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox once said Rick Ankiel(notes) possesses the strongest and most accurate outfield arm he's seen in 50 years in baseball. It would be difficult to find a stronger endorsement than that.
I've only been watching baseball for half that long. And yes, my opinion matters far less than Cox's, but I'm going to go ahead and back the legendary skipper on this one. Rick Ankiel has the strongest and most accurate outfield arm I've ever seen. And the gap between him and the field seems to grow with each passing season.
Sure, I'll listen to your arguments for Ichiro(notes), Jose Guillen(notes), Larry Walker, Andre Dawson and maybe even Jeff Francoeur(notes), but you'll never change my mind. Simply said, no 90 feet are guaranteed when the baseball ends up in Ankiel's left hand.
He proved that again on Sunday.
The throw happened during the ninth inning of the Washington Nationals' 5-4, 14-inning loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday afternoon. With the score tied 4-all, Reds speedster Dave Sappelt(notes) hit a long fly ball to right-center field that hit the wall and bounced away from right fielder Jayson Werth(notes). At that point, Sappelt turned on the jets between first and second and was thinking triple.
Ankiel, who had drifted over from center and was backing up the play, picked up the ball about 10 feet in front of the warning track. With Sappelt rounding second, and with Ankiel crow-hopping and uncorking towards third, it was going to be a matter of Sappelt outrunning the baseball.
Ankiel made an absolutely gorgeous one-hop peg that was right on the money. Third baseman Brian Bixler(notes) snatched the ball and applied the easy tag for, at that time, the most important out of the game.
When you read the scouting report, things like this don't happen. Let that be a lesson to all.
Of course, it wasn't but three weeks ago that the aforementioned Francoeur made a great throw that had me wondering where it ranked in recent history. Ankiel's throw on Sunday, without any question in my mind, surpassed Francoeur's as the best this season, and is in the same category of awesome as Ankiel's two throws at Coors Field in 2008. Because as Nationals color analyst F.P. Santangelo pointed out, Ankiel didn't have time to locate his target, he just picked it up and chucked it.
It couldn't have been any more perfect if he spent all day practicing. For any other outfielder, I might consider that a fluke. For Rick Ankiel, it's just another day at the office.