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Kent Tekulve

Kent Tekulve

Position(s):
P, LF, OF
Nicknames:
Teke
Born:
March 5, 1947
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
6' 4"
Weight:
180 lbs
Major League Debut:
5-20-1974 with PIT

 

While attending a Pirate minor league pitching camp two prospects were told to abandon their sidearm style of pitching and change the angle of their delivery.  Neither did, luckily for the Buccos, as the two pitchers with the unsupported deliveries became the only ones in that camp who made it to the majors.  One was Bruce Kison, the other Kent Tekulve, who at the time of his retirement had pitched in more National League games than anyone in history.

Tekulve was a thin man, tall and gangly and wore glasses.  He looked more like a teacher than a ballplayer, yet he ranks behind only ElRoy Face as the greatest reliever in Pirates history.  Teke had been a successful pitcher in the minor leagues from the time he broke in with Geneva in 1969, until making the majors to stay in 1975, but his sidearm motion may have kept him from being considered a top prospect despite impressive ERA’s in 1969 and 1970 (1.70 and 1.94) until he went 12-4 with a 1.53 ERA in a league leading 57 games in AA Sherbrooke in 1973.

Particularly of note, while pitching exclusively in relief in ’73, Tekulve’s 12 wins tied for the Texas League lead. Tekulve was ineffective in eight games with the Pirates in 1974 and started 1975 in the minors, but when the Pirates decided to release Sam McDowell, the sidewheeling righthander was recalled and he helped compliment Dave Giusti and Ramon Hernandez, saving five games while posting a 2.25 ERA.

With Giusti beginning to decline in ’76 and Bob Moose slumping after a strong start, Danny Murtaugh turned to Teke as the Pirates’ bullpen ace during the dog days of August.  He pitched well down the stretch, helping the Pirates pull within three games of the Phillies after having trailed by 15 ½ on August 24.  The Pirates cooled off with the young ace absorbing a very difficult loss to the Mets on a homerun by rookie Lee Mazzilli.  Still, the skinny guy who was told he couldn’t pitch with his motion had established himself with a 5-3 record, nine saves and a 2.45 ERA.

The Pirates made many changes following the season.  New GM Pete Peterson brought in Chuck Tanner and traded for, among others, established relievers Grant Jackson, Terry Forster and Goose Gossage.  Both Forster and Gossage had starred for Tanner, each winning a Fireman of the Year Award when Tanner managed them.  Tanner moved Gossage back into the role of ace reliever and Tekulve became the league’s number one set up man.  With Pirate starters other than John Candelaria and Jim Rooker having inconsistent seasons, Tekulve went 10-1 with a 3.06 ERA and seven saves.  Gossage, however, played out his contract and was lost to free agency.  Although there were rumors Tekulve would be traded, the Pirates realized he was needed to fill Gossage’s role as closer and he pitched superbly in 1978 and 1979, saving 31 games each year and leading the league in games pitched.  His saves and number of games pitched established new Pirate records after both he and Gossage had held the title by breaking Pete Mikkelson’s mark in 1977.  In 1978, he lost the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year to Rollie Fingers by one point and his 31 saves were second to the future Hall of Famer.  His 31 saves broke Dave Giusti’s record, established in 1971, by one.  With the team supposedly left for dead in August, the Pirates rallied and Teke was named Pitcher of the Month, allowing only one run in 15 appearances covering 24 innings.  He saved nine games during the month as the Pirates moved back into contention before finally being eliminated the second to last game of the year.

Tekulve’s effectiveness and physique made him one of the most recognizable members of the great “Family” team of 1979.  By now his appearances on the mound were grreeted by the tune “Rubber Band Man,” referring to both his thin build and his rubber arm.  In addition to his great clutch pitching, Tekulve enjoyed a memorable moment in leftfield in ’79.  With the tough lefthanded hitting Darrell Evans due up, Tanner elected to relieve Teke with his lefthanded ace, Jackson, but wanted Tekulve available to face the next hitter.  In order to keep his righthander in the game, Tanner moved him to leftfield, figuring Evans, a pull-hitter, would be unlikely to hit the ball there.  Sure enough, Evans lifted a high fly in Tekulve’s direction and the pitcher-turned-outfielder pulled the ball in to end the game.

Tekulve pitched in two games against the Reds in the playoffs, allowing Cincinnati to tie Game 2 with a pair of doubles in the ninth before the Bucs won in the tenth.

In the World Series, however, Teke emerged as one of the heroes.  He saved Game 2, striking out the first two batters he faced in the ninth before Al Bumbry grounded out to end the game. Game 4 was not kind to Tekulve.Entering the game with the Bucs ahead 6-3, but with Orioles perched on every base, Tekulve faced three strait lefthanded pinch hitters.  John Lowenstein tagged him for a double to make the score 6-5.  After Billy Smith walked, Terry Crowley duplicated Lowentsein’s feat to put the Orioles ahead and Tekulve had the dubious distinction of allowing a single to relief pitcher Tim Stoddard, who had never had a hit as a professional even in the minor leagues.

 “The Rubber Band Man” had been stretched but not snapped.  Returning to the mound in Game 6, Tekulve pitched three innings of one hit relief to combine with Candelaria on a 4-0 shut out to set up Game 7.  The next night, Tekulve relieved Jackson with two on and one out.  Weaver countered Tanner’s move by sending up Crowley.  This time Teke got him to ground out to Phil Garner at second, but the runners advanced.   

After Tanner ordered an intentional walk to Ken Singleton, Tekulve faced Eddie Murray, who although still a youngster, was already establishing himself as spectacular hitter.  Murray, batting lefthanded, drove one deep to right, but Dave Parker, after initially slipping, made the catch.  The Pirates scored two more in the ninth, and Tekulve closed out the Series striking out Gary Roenicke and Doug DeCinces and getting Pat Kelly to fly to Omar Moreno in center.  Teke survived being mobbed by his teammates and an attempted theft of his cap by a fan to celebrate the World Championship. Tekulve had an inconsitent year in 1980.  He started strongly and was named to the All-Star Team by Tanner.

He tied a major league record with three wins in three days early in the year, but finished only 8-12, losing his last seven decisions.  He still led the team with 21 saves, but that was off from his 31 two years running.  The slump and his 0-3 start in 1981 saw Tekulve lose his job as the Pirates’ unquestioned Number One reliever during the strike season and he added only three saves to his record while improving his ERA to 2.49.  Splitting closer duties with young lefty Rod Scurry in 1982, Tekulve rebounded with a career high 12 wins, 20 saves and led the league in games pitched for the third time in his career.  His ERA at the All-Star break was 1.11 and was especially important to Tanner as the manager had to manipulate his pitching staff early in the season before it was strengthened by the addition of Larry McWilliams.  Pirate fans selected Teke as the club’s Pitcher of the Year in a poll by a local jeweler. Tekulve also helped the club stay in contention in 1983.  He lowered his ERA to 1.64 and saved 18 games. 

Declaring himself a free agent at the end of the season, the Pirates resigned the popular pitcher to a multi-year contract after he was pursued by 13 other teams.  Tekulve was less effective in 1984 as his strikeout rate dropped and his ERA rose to a still respectable 2.66.  Pitching for a poor offensive team with less than mobile infielders, Teke’s record was an umimpressive 3-9.  He appeared in three games early in 1985 before he was traded to the Phillies for hardthrowing Al Holland, another one-time relief ace who had had difficulties in 1984, but who’s salary was less than half that of Teke’s.

Tekulve pitched well for the Phillies, mostly as a setup man over the next few years.  In 1986, he won 11 games and again led the league in appearances in 1987.  He pitched in his 1,000th major league game in 1988 and added 37 to his career total before being released by Cincinnati in 1989.  Tekulve retired to broadcasting, working part-time with the Pirates, then joining the Phillies...

At the time of his retirement, the man who was once told he would never pitch in the big leagues because of his sidearm delivery had hurled in 1,050 games, second only to Hoyt Wilhelm’s 1,070.  Tekulve had also set a record by making all of his appearances as a reliever.  While Teke did occasionally experiment with coming more over the top against lefthanded hitters, he remained primarily a sidewinder.  In a historical context, while Tekulve’s save totals may not seem overly impressive today, he pitched at a time when relievers were regularly asked to go more than one inning and he and Bruce Sutter were the first two great relievers to have been groomed as such in the minor leagues.  He also carried on the Pirate tradition of Face and Giusti in providing championship Pittsburgh teams with great relief pitching.

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Tagged:
1979 World Series, Baseball History, Kent Tekulve, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Relief pitcher, Save

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