Oakland's Matt Keough looks better all the time
Don't look for any mental scars on pitcher Matt Keough, who had a 2-17 won-lost record last year with the Oakland A's, a baseball team that made a total of 174 errors in the field.
Keough is a level-headed 24-year-old who pitcher seven complete games in 1979 (remarkable when you think about it), and struck out more hitters than he walker. He won something more important than games; he won the kind of respect you can't buy.
This year, with a slight change in his delivery and a tighter defense behind him, Keough has maintained a pitching quality so far that could put him on the American League All-Star squad. By the first week of May he already had doubled his victory output of a year ago with a 4-2 record and had a sparkling earned-run average of under two per game.
"If I didn't know I was a good pitcher, I would have quit last year before I lost 14 games in a row," Keough told me. "But I worked too many strong games to take that attitude -- especially when so many errors were made behind me.
"Actually I'm not blaming anyone, becaude I made some pitching mistakes myself that cost me some games I probably should have won," Matt continued. "But at least I had sense enough not to take my defeats home with me and brood about them. I just kept thinking that things would get better."
During the winter, Keough purposely added 15 pounds to his 6 ft. 3 in. frame on the theory that it probably would make him stronger. Matt is primarily a breaking-ball pitcher, who mixes things up a lot and doesn't rely on any one pitch to get himself out of trouble.
"I throw one kind of pitch if I'm looking for a ground ball that can be turned into a double play and another kind if the hitter likes to move the ball around the park," Keough explained.
"For example, I curve most right-handed hitters and change up against left-handers," he continued. "And for the guys I call ping hitters [those who just reach out and poke the ball between the infielders or in front of the outfielders], I almost always go to my gastball."
Some of the bizarre things that happened to Keough last year would make a terrific television documentary on how not to play baseball. The following is a classic example.
One time, against Seattle with men already on base, Matt fielded a high chopper back to the mound, started to throw to first base, then had to eat horsehide when no teammate appeared to catch the ball.
"I only remember seeing Keough work once last year," said the A's new pitching coach Art Fowler, who always seems to be part of Manager Billy Martin's staff, regardless of who employs Martin. "Matt lost, but if I recall correctly, he pitched pretty well.
"This spring I made some minor adjustments in Keough's delivery because it always helps when you can get more of a pitcher's body behind his throws. But basically the kid already had the tools to pitch and win in the big leagues. He's got good breaking stuff and throws strikes. Billy really likes him."
Keough's route to the big leagues was a curious one. Originally a hard-throwing infielder who began to have self-doubts about his hitting ability. Matt asked Oakland owner Charlie Finley for a chance to pitch regularly in the minors.
When Finley agreed, another chapter was added to the book "Necessity is the Mother of Invention." Keough also proved very tough to hit home runs against, since he was so good at keeping the ball down and away from the hitters.
Two years ago, while he was still managing the New York Yankees, Martin named Matt to the 1978 American League All-Star squad, then used him in relief to get Baltimore's Jim Palmer out of trouble against the National League.
"I know a little bit about this kid and what he can do, so Keough was going into my starting rotation this year no matter what," Billy said. "He's a winner , a tough competitor, and the record he had last year didn't mean a things."
Keough's father (Marty) was a journeyman outfielder with six major league teams and his uncle (Joe) with two.