Wednesday, October 19, 2011

#17 Kent Tekulve

Card: This is Kent Tekulve's eighth Topps card. He would end up appearing on five more base cards.  For some reason Topps did not include him in the '89 set even though he appeared in 70 games in '88 and would go to pitch again in '89.

Picture: Like many of his previous Topps cards this one shows Tekulve in the follow through of his low side arm delivery.

Player: Signed in 1969 as an undrafted free-agent, Tekulve toiled in the minors for over five seasons before reaching the Pirates in May, 1974.  After giving up six runs in nine innings of work Tekulve was sent back down to AAA in June. Tekulve started 1975 in the minors but would be called up in late June.  Setting up for closer Dave Guisti, Tekulve would appear in 34 games, with 56 innings, 5 saves and a 2.25 ERA in '75.
Tekulve got a few more chances to close out games in '76 finishing with 9 saves and a 2.45 ERA in 102.2 innings pitched but was sharing closer duties in a crowded Pirate pen with Guisti and Bob Moose.  Tekulve set up for closer Rich Gossage in '77, once again logging more than 100 innings, with a 10-1 record and 7 saves in 72 relief appearances.
With Gossage leaving for the Yankees in free agency, Tekulve stepped into the closer role for the Pirates. Tekulve was a workhorse out of the pen pitching in 91 games and 135.1 innings to go with 31 saves and a 2.33 ERA.  Tekulve was able to follow up his successful '78 campaign with a nearly identical season.   In '79 Tekulve appeared in 94 games and pitched 134.1 innings with another 31 saves as the Pirates won the NL East.  The Pirates swept the Reds in three games in the NLCS.  After earning the save in game two, Tekulve would lose game four of the World Series versus the Orioles.  He bounced back to earn the save in game six and the clincher in game seven.
Despite 21 saves and a 3.39 ERA in 1980, Tekulve blew 11 saves and was not used as much as the previous two years. Tekulve started '81 in a slump. Through his first 12 games he had lost three and blown the save in three others and had a 6.28 ERA.  Although stripped of his closer role Tekulve bounced back and finished the year with a 2.49 ERA.
Tekulve shared closer duties with lefty Rod Scurry in '82.  Leading the league in games pitched for the third time with 85, Tekulve notched 20 saves and had a 2.87 ERA.
In '83 and '84 Tekulve remained the closer and had ERAs of 1.67 and 2.66 with 18 and 13 saves respectively.
1985 started out roughly for Tekulve as he allowed 6 runs in his first three innings.  Perhaps feeling he was washed up at 38 years old, the Pirates traded Tekulve to the Phillies for Al Holland. Tekulve rebounded somewhat in Philadelphia with 14 saves and a 2.99 ERA, although he did blow 8 saves.
The veteran would then settle into a setup role for the Phillies over the '86-'88 seasons.  The side slinging Tekulve would appear in 233 games and with a decent ERA each year. The Phillies released the 41 year old in December of 1988, but he was not ready to retire.
Tekulve signed on with his hometown Cincinnati Reds.  Sharing a bullpen with "Nasty Boys" John Franco, Rob Dibble, and Norm Charlton, Tekulve found himself pitching in middle relief. Not satisfied with his role and maybe realizing his skills were fading, Tekulve retired in July with a 5.02 ERA in 52 innings.

Stuff: 88-89 mph sinker, slider, and change up.

Flipside: Man, that's one mis-aligned card back...  You won't see numbers like that on closer's cards today.  Most closers today pitch about half the load that Tekulve was in his prime.

Oddball: Tekulve may have been one of the first ace relievers with their own entrance song.  In the Pirates magical 1979 season, when Tekulve entered the game they would play the Spinners "Rubberband Man". Seems pretty fitting with Tekulve's gangly limbs and side arm delivery.
As a side armer Tekulve was vulnerable to left handed hitters and thus intentionally walked many of them. Of the 491 walks issued in his career 179 or 36.5% were intentional.
With two outs in the ninth of a September 1st game in 1979, manager Chuck Tanner took Tekulve off the mound inserted Grant Jackson and put Tekulve in left field.  With the lefty slugger Darrell Evans up and a right handed Mike Ivie on deck, Tanner wanted to keep Tekulve in the game in case Jackson failed to get Evans out.  Evans, a dead pull hitter, uncharacteristically hit a fly ball right to Tekulve for the final out of the game

History: Tekulve was remarkably durable and a workhorse out of the pen often working two or three innings a game.
Tekulve will always be remembered for his aviator glasses and unorthodox delivery, but more importantly as a member of the 1979 World Champion Pirates.  An excellent article on Tekulve from a 1980 Sports Illustrated can be found here.
Tekulve currently works as a post game analyst for ROOT Sport Pittsburgh.

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