Thanks for your services…but down you go to Triple-A!

Left-hander Tommy Milone, who as recently as two weeks ago was thought of as “Mr. Reliable” of the Oakland A’s pitching staff, was sent to Triple-A Sacramento on July 5 to make room for right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who along with righty Jason Hammel had just been acquired in a trade from the Chicago Cubs.

The 27-year-old Milone was 6-3 with a 3.55 ERA in 16 starts this season for the A’s, and had tossed six shutout innings the day before in Oakland’s 1-0 win over the Blue Jays. Since beginning the season 0-3, the lefty had gone 6-0 with a 2.62 ERA with the A’s going 9-2 in those starts.

It is expected Milone would be back at some point later in the season, but this reminds me of another stunning demotion in Oakland which took place 15 years ago.

Back in 1999, going into the season the A’s starting pitching was led by veteran lefty Kenny Rogers and knuckleballer Tom Candiotti, but beyond those top two spots Oakland seemed very thin in that department.

Jimmy Haynes (5.09 ERA in 1998), Gil Heredia (22-24 lifetime and only 45 career starts), and Brad Rigby (5-6 with a 5.94 ERA in Triple-A Edmonton and injured most of 1998) were expected to be the Nos. 3, 4, 5 starters, respectively.

Mike Oquist, 11-17 with a 5.76 ERA in 1997-98 with the A’s, had been reassigned to minor-league camp to start the season.

With Haynes, Heredia, Rigby, and Oquist not having a lot of big-league experience and with Rogers expected to be traded once the A’s fell out of contention, Candiotti was looked upon to pick up the staff.

rigbyUnfortunately, Candiotti wouldn’t be the innings-eater the A’s were hoping for in 1999 – and it ultimately affected Rigby the most because he had to make emergency relief appearances when Candiotti came out of ballgames early.

What happened was Rigby went on to lose his spot in the Oakland rotation permanently – thanks to Candiotti.

The trouble started on April 11 in Seattle, when Candiotti ripped a fingernail while warming up before his start against the Mariners. Because of the torn nail, he couldn’t throw the knuckleball and had to rely on his fastballs. The Mariners, delighted at seeing the mediocre fastballs that the 40-year-old Candiotti was serving up, ripped him for six runs on seven hits in his 2.1 innings of work in their 11-8 victory.

Because of Candiott’s ineffectiveness and early exit, Rigby – the scheduled starter for the A’s game against Anaheim two nights later – had to come in and pitch in relief of the knuckleballer in order to save the rest of the bullpen. Rigby was pounded for four runs on seven hits in 1.2 innings, and not only was he deprived of his starting assignment against the Angels, he would also be sent to the minors the following day, losing his fifth-starter spot (and major-league roster spot) to Mike Oquist!

Rigby, who had beaten out Oquist as the A’s No. 5 starter in spring training, would be back with Oakland soon enough – he was recalled a week and a half later – but would be pitching exclusively out of the bullpen as a long reliever.

Meanwhile, the Seattle game wouldn’t be the last time that Candiotti put Rigby in a bad spot. Two weeks later, when he had to leave a start in the first inning against Cleveland, Rigby again came in and was ripped for five runs in 5.1 innings. But at least Rigby was able to save the bullpen by pitching deep into the game in relief.

Small consolation, of course, for the man who was supposed to be the A’s fifth starter in 1999. If only he hadn’t volunteered to give the team a few innings to help save the bullpen against the Mariners…

“A couple of days ago, they tell me I’m starting [against the Angels],” Rigby said the day manager Art Howe informed him he was being sent down to Triple-A. “Then I go and throw in the bullpen. Do my arm and shoulder exercises. I ice. I’m in the dugout, ready to watch the game.

“Then the starter [Candiotti] goes down [against the Mariners], and they need a guy to go out there and suck up some innings. I tell them I can pitch. And I go out and pitch. And this [demotion to the minors] happens today. I’m upset. This isn’t right. I went out there and did something for the team.” [1]

As it turned out, Brad Rigby would not start another game in the majors, and would be traded on July 31 with two other pitchers to the Royals for Kevin Appier. Rigby, who had gone 1-7 in 14 starts for Oakland in 1997, would go 4-6 with a 6.01 ERA in 59 relief appearances in 1999-2000, and would appear in his final big-league game with the Montreal Expos on June 24, 2000.

All this after he had easily won the competition for the fifth starter spot in the A’s rotation. [2]

As for Mike Oquist, he started – and won – his game against the Angels, beating knuckleballer Steve Sparks, 3-2. So, that means Oquist had two knuckleball pitchers to thank for his victory; Candiotti for his early exit making Rigby unavailable to pitch and getting him called up, and then Oquist himself throwing well enough in out-pitching the knuckleballing Sparks.

“There’s always some kind of story, the way these things happen,” Oquist would say later. [3]

Well, try telling that to Rigby. And to Tommy Milone in 2014.

But even that’s not the end of the story. Mike Oquist, who had the second-highest ERA (6.22) in the American League in 1998, would be done following the ’99 season at the age of 31. He went 9-10 with a 5.37 ERA that year and never pitched in the big leagues again, instead toiling in Triple-A Toledo for the Tigers organization in 2000 and losing 15 games.

—————————————————————————————————————–

[1] Frank Blackman, “A Funny Way to Thank Rigby,” San Francisco Examiner, April 13, 1999.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Mark Fainaru-Wada, “Luck Helps Oquist Nail Down Win,” San Francisco Examiner, April 14, 1999.

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  1. #1 by Gary Trujillo on July 29, 2014 - 9:10 am

    Great obscure Oakland A’s facts…it worked out for us in the end, though. I was elated to get Appier at the time.

    • #2 by alifeofknuckleballs on July 29, 2014 - 2:46 pm

      Hi Gary, certainly it was great to see Appier be involved in a pennant race at last after all of those years with the Royals.

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