In 1970, Tekulve graduated to the “A” level, catching on with the Carolina League Pittsburgh affiliate the Salem Rebels. He saved seven games, going 4-6 with a 1.94 ERA in 41 contests. He stayed with the Rebels through most of 1971, racking up an 11-5 record with a 3.35 ERA in 49 games, including 10 saves. He also appeared in two games near the end of the season with the “AA” level Eastern League’s Waterbury Pirates, allowing three hits in three innings pitched.
1972 would see Tekulve split his season between the “AA” level Eastern League Sherbrooke Pirates (7-6, 2.62) and the “AAA” level Charleston Charlies, of the International League (2-1, 4.09). He spent 1973 with Sherbrooke (12-4, 1.53, 18 saves in 57 contests), and most of 1974 back in Charleston (6-3, 2.25). He also made his first major league appearance with the Pirates on May 20th, giving up one hit in one inning of a 4-2 loss to the Montreal Expos. He stayed with the team for three weeks, pitching nine innings over eight appearances and going 1-1 with 12 hits and five walks allowed for a 6.00 ERA.
1975 would be the last time that Tekulve appeared on a minor league roster, with Charleston (5-4, 1.77 over 24 games). He was called up for good near the end of June. He struck out 28 while allowing 43 hits in 56 innings, going 1-2 with five saves (including his last three appearances of the season) and a 2.25 ERA. On June 30th, he was called in to pitch against the Expos in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and nobody out, up by a score of 5-2. After unloading a wild pitch, he induced two groundouts and one swinging strikeout to preserve the victory with his first big league save. The Pirates went 92-69, winning the NL East by 6.5 games over the Philadelphia Phillies. Tekulve pitched twice in the NLCS, giving up a run on three hits and a walk, pitching 1.1 innings and striking out two as the Pirates were swept in three games by the Cincinnati Reds.
In 1976, Tekulve racked up a 5-3 record over 64 appearances, with nine saves and a 1.13 WHIP. On July 29th, he entered a tie 1-1 game against the Mets with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth. After inducing a flyball to end the inning, Rennie Stennett scored on a 6-4-3 bases loaded double play ball (by Bob Robertson) in the top of the tenth. Tekulve pitched a perfect 10th for the win. Pittsburgh missed the NL East title by nine games to the Phillies, at 92-70.
1977 would see Tekulve go 10-1, making 72 appearances with a 3.06 ERA and seven saves. He kept his WHIP down at 1.184, allowing 7.8 hits per nine innings pitched. On September 18th, he earned his last win by pitching the last four innings of a 7-5 win over the Expos. He allowed two hits and a walk, striking out three. Pittsburgh finished at 96-66, five games behind the Phillies for the NL East Championship.
In 1978, Tekulve led the National League with 91 appearances and with 65 games finished. He ranked second with 31 saves, and finished up the season at 8-7 with a 2.33 ERA. He earned enough MVP votes to finish 13th in the NL, also finishing fifth in the Cy Young Award vote. On September 12th, he saved his 29th game of the season by pitching 2.2 innings of hitless ball in a 5-1 victory over the Phillies. They may have won the battle that day, but lost the war by 1.5 games, at 88-73.
1979 would see Tekulve again lead the league in appearances and games finished, with 94 and 67 respectively. He went 10-8 with a 2.75 ERA, again ranking second in the NL with 31 saves. He allowed 7.3 hits per nine innings and a 1.176 WHIP, again finishing fifth in the Cy Young Award race. He also placed eighth in the NL MVP voting. On April 25th, he pitched 3.1 perfect innings, striking out two in a 3-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds, his first win of the season. The Pirates won the NL East by two games over the Expos, at 98-64. In two relief appearances in the NLCS, he allowed two hits and two walks in 2.2 innings as the Pirates swept the Reds in three games. He later appeared in five of the seven World Series matchups with the Baltimore Orioles, allowing only four hits with 10 strikeouts over nine innings pitched. He did manage to lose game four, allowing three hits and three earned runs in only 1.2 innings. As you probably are already aware, the Pirates ultimately prevailed anyway.
In 1980, Tekulve made his first and only all-star appearance, earning 21 saves and finishing 57 out of his 78 total appearances. He went 8-12with a 3.39 ERA and a then-career high 1.462 WHIP. On September 16th, he earned his 20th save of the season when he entered a 3-2 game with runners on first and second with nobody out against the Phillies. He faced three batters and collected three outs. The Bucs posted an 83-79 record, in third place and eight games behind the Phillies for the NL East crown.
Tekulve went 5-5 in the strike shortened 1981 season with a 2.49 ERA and three saves. He showed some of his old form by dropping his WHIP back to 1.200. The Pirates were 25-23 in the first half of the split season, and 46-56 in the second. Neither half was good enough to make the postseason.
1982 would see Tekulve lead the NL for a third time with 85 appearances. He went 12-8 with a 2.87 ERA and 20 saves. Pittsburgh was 84-78, eight games back of the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL East.
In 1983, Tekulve put up a career best 1.64 ERA, going 7-5 in 76 relief appearances and a league leading 56 games finished. He allowed 7.1 hits per nine innings and a 1.152 WHIP. He shut down the Expos on September 17th, allowing two hits over four innings in an eventual 5-4, 11-inning victory. Pittsburgh finished at 84-78, six games behind the Phillies.
Tekulve kept at it in 1984, going 3-9 with a 2.66 ERA. He appeared in 72 matchups, finishing 51. On April 24th, he earned his first save of the season (of 13 total) by shutting the door on the Phillies. He entered the game with the bases juiced and one out in the bottom of the ninth, leading 3-1. After allowing Mike Schmidt a run scoring groundout, he finished off the game by inducing Von Hayes to also ground out. The Pirates posted their first full-season losing record since 1973, going 75-87 and finishing last in the NL East.
After three appearances in 1985, the Pirates traded Tekulve to the Phillies for minor league Frankie Griffin and pitcher Al Holland. Holland went 1-3 for the Pirates, and Griffin never graduated to the majors. Tekulve, meanwhile, spent four seasons in Philadelphia, going 24-26 with 25 saves and a 3.01 ERA. He later spent 1989 with the Reds, playing in 37 games to finish out his playing career. Tekulve ranked in the NL top ten in appearances in each of his nine full seasons with the Pirates.
For a closer look at Tekulve, check out his SABR biography, by Bob Hurte.
All-time Statline: 12 seasons, 70-61, 2.68 ERA, 722 games, zero starts, zero CG, zero shutouts, 158 saves, 1017.1 innings pitched, 900 hits allowed, walked 367, struck out 552, 1.245 WHIP, 18.1 wins above replacement.