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Matt Keough, One of Athletics' Five Aces, Dead at 64 (Update)

His former teammates remember Oakland right-handed starting pitcher Matt Keough, who died Saturday in Southern California. Keough, the son of a big leaguer, was a 1978 All-Star and who won 16 games for the A's in 1980 after losing 17 games the year before.

Matt Keough, who was a major part of the A’s resuscitation in the era of BillyBall four decades ago, passed away Saturday at 64.

Keough, an All-Star in 1978 and a 16-game winner in 1980, was one of the A’s “Five Aces,” so dubbed by Sports Illustrated, which dedicated an April, 1981 cover to the Oakland A’s starting rotation of Keough, Mike Norris, Steve McCatty. Rick Langford and Brian Kingman.

“I spent about four or five minutes just looking and the blowup picture of that cover that I have after I heard about Matt,” Kingman said from his home in Arizona. “I’m starting to tear up; talking about it makes it more real somehow. When I first heard, I thought it was one of those fake death stories, the ones where Clint Eastwood has died 20 times.

“Those were good time with Matt and the rest of the group. He was a big part of what we did.”

Keough began his pro career in 1973 as a shortstop, following in the footsteps of his father, Marty, and his unlike, Joe, both of whom played outfield and first base in the big leagues. He would move to third base third base before making the conversion to pitcher in Double-A in 1976.

“He was still a shortstop when I first met him in the minor leagues,” McCatty said from his home in Michigan. “But he could always throw, really had an arm. That appealed to (then-A’s owner) Charlie Finley. Any way he could make some sort of headline worked for Charlie.

“As a pitching staff we were all really different, but we were all really competitive. And that really describes Matt. He was competitive at everything. But off the field, we all had a lot of fun together. It was a good group of guys.”

In the 1977-79 season, Keough tied the Major League record of Cliff Curtis (1910-11) by making 28 starts without getting credit for a win. The next year, Kingman tied the Major League record with 20 losses. He got it in a Sept. 25 game started by Keough, who lasted just one inning in what would be his final start of the season.

Keough was long gone by the time the game was over, but that night he surprised Kingman, who got a telegram from Keough when he got back to his hotel room in Milwaukee.

“Even back then, it was unusual to get a telegram, so I was surprised,” Kingman said. “It read something like `now that that’s over, go ahead and kick ass.’ That meant a lot to me.”

Keough, the son of former Major League infielder Marty Keough, got to the big leagues with the A’s in 1977, four years after being drafted out of Corona del Mar High in Newport Beach. He struggled some early on, particularly in 1979 when he went 2-17 with a 5.04 ERA in 1979 on a 108-loss A’s team.

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A year earlier, however, he’d been the A’s representative in the All-Star Game in his first full season. Although he would finish with an 8-15 record that year, he went into the All-Star break 6-4 with a 2.16 ERA

That all turned around with the arrival of Billy Martin as manager in 1980. Keough won 16 games, put together a 2.92 ERA and completed 20 of his 32 starts. It was then that he got national attention, and in 1981, Sports Illustrated came up with the “Five Aces” tag after the A’s had gotten off to a 17-1 start. Keough was 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA during that hot start.

The A’s won the first half of a 1981 season that was divided by a players’ strike and made it to the playoffs. Keough, who went 10-6 with a 3.40 ERA, pitched a brilliant game against the Yankees in the second round, giving up one run on a Willie Randolph homer in the first eight innings in Game 3, which turned out to be a series-ending Yankees’ 4-0 win.

“For some reason I remember him walking off the field that day,” McCatty said. “The fans appreciated what he’d done. He really got a great ovation.”

Keough left the Major Leagues after the 1986 season owning a 58-84 record and 4.17 ERA. He went on to play three seasons in Japan with Hanshin from 1987-89, going 45-44 with a 3.73 ERA for the Tigers.

He attempted a comeback with the Angels in 1992, but was hit in the head by a line drive in spring training and nearly died. He would recover, and he joined the Oakland A’s front office for much of the 1990s and the first decade of the 21 century as a special assistant and talent assessor and later did some of the same kinds of work with the Rays and the Angels.

“Matt was a great baseball man and a proud Oakland A,” Billy Beane, the executive vice president of baseball operations said in a statement. “He had an incredible passion for the game and we were lucky to have him and his wealth of knowledge alongside us for the years he worked as a special assistant. He left an unforgettable impression on everyone he touched in baseball. Our sincere condolences are with the entire Keough family.”

Keough, who served a three-month stretch in jail after an alcohol-related driving incident led to the injury of a pedestrian, is survived by his children, Shane, Kara and Colton.

The cause of death has not been determined.

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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