ST. LOUIS -- Just before Rick Ankiel barreled headfirst into the wall, the thought flashed through his mind: My career is finished.
"I thought that might be it," the St. Louis Cardinals' outfielder said Tuesday. "When you don't get a chance to put up your hands to protect yourself, I'm lucky to be walking today. Anything from here is a plus."
Ankiel escaped with only soreness from the harrowing collision after making a running catch at the warning track in the eighth inning Monday. X-rays and a CT scan of Ankiel's head, neck and back revealed no broken bones, although manager Tony La Russa was so concerned he spent the night in the hospital with the center fielder.
Feeling very fortunate he was able to stand at his locker stall and talk to reporters, Ankiel said he "tweaked" his right shoulder and added that his neck and left side, which appeared to take the brunt of the blow, also were the worse for wear. He was released from the hospital earlier Tuesday and was due to be examined by team physician Dr. George Paletta later in the day.
"I'm just total body sore," Ankiel said. "I was relieved, but I've never gone through that and I don't know what you're supposed to feel and what you're not supposed to feel.
"I hit it just so hard that all I could imagine was that something's going to be wrong."
The team postponed a decision whether to place him on the 15-day disabled list, depending on how much better he's feeling in a few days.
La Russa said Ankiel was "beat-up," but added, "It's worth waiting a couple of days because there wasn't anything broken. Just in case he can go."
Ankiel has been with the Cardinals since they drafted him in the second round in 1997 as a phenom left-handed pitcher out of Port St. Lucie High School in Florida, and he made the conversion to full-time outfielder in 2007. His badly-dented hat, which reflected the intensity of the collision, was on a shelf in the manager's office.
"It wasn't a good night's sleep," La Russa said. "A lot of things in that game were upsetting."
The team was relieved when Ankiel flashed a thumbs-up sign as he was carted off the field.
"Hopefully, it doesn't happen again," teammate Brendan Ryan said. "It's just one of those freak things, and I hope we get him back real soon."
Ryan said Ankiel felt well enough to exchange text messages Monday night. Ryan told Ankiel "heck of a play but you scared us," and Ankiel responded "can't wait till we're both healthy and see who can make better plays."
Ankiel was running full speed to chase down Pedro Feliz's long drive and couldn't stop himself from crashing. He took a few off-balance steps after making the grab and took the ball out of his glove before attempting to brace himself with his left arm, deciding he didn't have enough time to execute a slide before stumbling.
Ankiel said he's watched replays of the collision perhaps 35 times and added "It's just like I imagined." He remembered his eyes being open and his head getting twisted upon impact. When he landed on the warning track, flat on his back, he believed he might have broken his neck or back.
"My lower back was really tight and tense, and in between my shoulder blades I felt like somebody was kind of stabbing me," Ankiel said. "After that I knew not to move."
The 3-inch padded wall in left center no doubt spared Ankiel from serious injury. Right fielder Ryan Ludwick said the wall was hard, "but it's not like concrete."
"He just lunged into it," La Russa said. "The padding's definitely better than if there had been no padding, but it was still a shock."
Holding off on a move left the manager with only three position players on the bench for the finale of a two-game set against the Phillies, because the Cardinals are using a 13-man pitching staff during a run of 20 straight games without a day off.