I’m not sure if there’s any reasonable way to introduce this. Just listen to this.
Jeff Ridgway, a 6’3″, 210 lefty was a 14th round pick by the Devil Rays way back in 1999 out of Port Angeles High School in Washington. He threw a low-90′s fastball with some sink and a decent slider although he struggles to control both of his pitches. He had a nice pro debut in 2000 for the Advanced-Rookie Princeton Devil Rays, posting a 2.47 ERA and a 3.18 FIP in 12 starts and 54.2 IP. He slipped in 2001 at Low-A Charleston, posting a 4.07 ERA and 3.81 FIP in 22 starts and 104 IP, but more importantly he suffered an elbow injury that would require Tommy John Surgery. Ridgway returned to Charleston in 2003 after missing a year and managed a 4.17 ERA and 3.57 FIP in 19 starts, including a complete game, 5 relief appearances, and 99.1 IP. He was pitching pretty well, but because of his surgery and subsequent injury problems along with inconsistent command (4.4 walks and hit-by-pitches per 9 innings), the D-Rays decided to move him into the bullpen.
Ridgway missed most of 2004 with arm problems but pitched fine when healthy, posting a 2.31 ERA and 3.37 FIP in 15 appearances, just 1 of which was a start, and 35 IP. He then struggles out of the ‘pen in 2005, putting up a 5.20 ERA and 3.82 FIP. He actually struck out 11.2 batters per 9 innings, but he walked a ghastly 7.2 per 9 innings as well. But the jump in strikeouts turned out to be a positive sign. Ridgway was able to keep his strikeout rate at well over a batter per inning at 10.4 while cutting his walk rate by more than half to 3.1 in 2006, resulting in a 2.79 ERA and 3.03 FIP in 50 relief appearances and 58 IP between Double-A Montgomery and Double-A Durham. Ridgway slipped a bit as a 26 year old at Durham in ’07, pitching to a 3.03 ERA and 4.17 FIP, but the D-Rays liked him enough to call him up to the big leagues in September.
Joe Maddon picked a reasonably big spot to insert his rookie left-hander, putting him into a September 17th game down 2 runs to the Angels with a runner on 3rd and 1 out. Ridgway could not do the job, allowing a single and a triple as he allowed the inherited runner to score and another run as well without recording an out. Maddon threw him back into the fray on September 21st to pitch the 9th inning in a game the Red Sox led 5-1 against the D-Rays, but he allowed a walk, a hit batsman, and a 3-run blast before exiting, once again without recording an out. Only on September 26th did Ridgway get the first out of his major league career, but he allowed 3 runs on 4 hits in a third of an inning in a game versus the Yankees. After his 3-game big league stint, Ridgway’s major league ERA stood at a scary 189.00. No, that’s not a typo. 7 runs in a third of an inning.
After the year, something completely bizarre happened. The newly-renamed Rays, hoping (unbeknownst to the rest of baseball) to make a run, had no use for Ridgway and shipped him off to Atlanta. But improbably, Ridgway yielded value in return as the Rays got Willy Aybar and utilityman Chase Fontaine. Aybar proved to be a solid contributor to the Rays’ 2008 World Series run, posting a .253/.327/.410 line with 17 doubles, 10 homers, and 33 RBI in 95 regular season games and a .353/.361/.588 line with 2 doubles, 2 homers, and 7 RBI in 14 games, 6 starts, in the postseason. Aybar would slam 12 homers for the Rays in 2009 before slipping a bit in 2010 and ending up in jail in the Dominican Republic.
Ridgway managed a 3.72 ERA in 10 appearances for the Braves in 2008, lowering his career ERA to a somewhat more reasonable 9.90. Arm troubles would end his MLB career after that and his pro career ended after a stint in independent ball in 2010.
Jeff Ridgway is little more than a footnote in Rays history. But in addition to arguably the worst 3-game pitching stint in the history of the franchise, Ridgway was the player the Rays used to acquire Willy Aybar, an important player in their 2008 run. Not every player can be a superstar or even a role player on a major league ballclub. But when you make the right connections and make the most of what you have, even the most minor players can play a part in making your team into a contending ballclub.