I read in a Cardinals blog that Brad Penny’s three consecutive quality starts to begin the 2010 season is the first time since Andy Rincon accomplished that feat in 1981. Newer Cardinals fans are asking, Andy Who ? Even some old time Cardinals fans may not remember the brief but exciting career of Andy Rincon.
The tall right handed pitcher was drafted out of high school by the Cardinals in the 1977 amateur draft. He pitched in a few games with the Rookie League Calgary Cardinals that same year and put up some respectable numbers: 3-1 with a 2.92 ERA in six starts. He also earned a save in his one relief appearance. He progressed quickly through the Cards minor league system, ending up in the AA affiliate Arkansas Travelers in 1980. Although his minor league stats were unremarkable, his 10-7 record helped the Travelers win their division of the Texas League. Rincon’s two victories in the playoffs would propel the Travelers to the 1980 league championship. It would also draw the attention of the Cardinals scouts. On his way home from the AA playoffs, Rincon would be pulled over by the Texas Highway Patrol with a message that he was to report immediately to the Cardinals as a September call up.
Rincon would make his major league debut in Chicago on September 15, 1980. In front of a tiny crowd, he would make short work of last place Cubs by throwing a complete game 5 hitter, allowing just one run on back to back singles in the 3rd inning. Other than those two hits, Rincon was as dominant as anybody we’d seen take the mound in the last few seasons.
His second outing would be more of a test as he was facing the first place Montreal Expos. He would pitch 8 strong innings, allowing a single run on 3 hits. Five days later he would pitch another strong 8 innings against the Mets, allowing just a single run. This time he would strike out 8 while walking none. His only loss would come at the hands of the Expos on his fourth and last start of 1980. In those 4 games he would compile a 3-1 record with an ERA of 2.61.
But that was just his introduction.
Rincon would make the major league club out of spring training in 1981. A promotion from AA to the majors was a relatively rare occurrence, especially for a pitcher. He would join a starting rotation that included Bob Forsch, Lary Sorensen, Silvio Martinez and Bob Shirley. Rincon would get off to an amazing start in 1981. He would go 6 1/3 innings in the debut against the Mets on April 16. He would only allow one unearned run. He would be even better in his next start, throwing a complete game shutout at home against the Cubs, striking out 5 while walking none. He would lose his next start at Chicago, but it was the bullpen and the Cards bats that let him down as it was his 3rd quality start in as many chances.
The Atlanta Braves would not be too kind to Rincon on his next start as they would score 4 runs on him on in only 5 1/3 innings. The best pitched game in his career would come in his next start, on May 9 at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The game would be a laugher until the top of the 8th inning. The Cardinals had jumped out to a 13-0 lead, beating up starter Rod Scurry and reliever Kent Tekulve. Meanwhile Rincon was mowing down the Pirates lineup, allowing only three hits to that point in the game. In the top of the 8th, Phil Garner leads off and hits a line drive off Rincon’s pitching arm, deflecting to third baseman Julio Gonzalez. The ball is hit so hard that Gonzalez is able to throw out Garner on the play. Unfortunately for Rincon, he would have to be removed from the game. Bob Sykes, who would be traded at the end of the season to the Yankees for a young outfielder named Willie McGee, would finish the game and preserve the shutout. The next day it was learned that Rincon has suffered a broken arm and would undergo a lengthy rest and rehabilitation before returning to the major leagues. John Martin would be called up to replace Rincon, and would pitch quite well in his absence.
Rincon would be activated just a few days before the strike in June. Taking advantage of the work stoppage, Rincon returned to the minors for a few rehabilitation starts. In those starts, Rincon’s velocity was way down, as was his control. The minor leaguers were hitting him hard and his ERA soared to over 6 before shutting it down to rest in preparation of the 1982 season.
He had a good spring training in 1982 and expectations here high on his return. He pitched a beautiful complete game 3 hitter on his first start of 1982, in Chicago. But things would quickly turn sour as the number of hits and runs went up as his number of innings went down. He would be moved to the bullpen in May and have some limited success. He earned his second win of the season in long relief against the Braves on May 13. That would also be the last win of his career. He would get his last start on May 22 in Los Angeles where he would walk 6 Dodgers in 4 1/3 innings. Without the ability to throw strikes, you cannot pitch in the major leagues. He would spend the rest of 1982 and all of 1983 in Springfield with the AAA farm team where he would fare no better. On the positive side, he did earn a World Series ring for his time with the Cardinals in the first part of the 1982 season.
Under a new rule, Rincon was granted free agency at the end of the 1983 season. He would sign a minor league contract with the Pirates – ironically the team that ended his Cardinals career. That did not work out any better for the young right hander. At age 25, his baseball career was over. He would take a couple of years off and try to make a comeback in the Cardinals system in 1989, but that did not last very long.
His major league career was just a blink of an eye. In that time, he left his mark on Cardinals history. His 3-1 performance in September 1980 followed by the amazing 3-1 1.77 ERA to start the 1981 season were simply amazing. For that, Andy Rincon is an Unforgotten Cardinal.