Until Jesse Orosco broke his record in 1999, Tekulve was the all-time major league leader in relief appearances with 1,050. He went 10-1 as a set-up man for Goose Gossage in 1977, and took over as the Pirates’ closer after Gossage signed with the Yankees that November. He established himself as one of baseball’s most successful relievers, ranking among the all-time leaders in games, saves, and relief wins. With his sidearm delivery, the bespectacled, 6’4″, rail-thin Tekulve proved baffling to both lefthanders and righthanders. In 1978, he set a Pirates record with 31 saves, which he matched the following year. He led the NL in appearances in both 1978 and 1979, setting a club record with 94 in 1979. That fall, he recorded a World Series-record three saves, striking out 10 Orioles in 9.1 innings.
Tekulve led the NL in appearances (85) and relief wins (12) in 1982. He was the Pirates’ all-time leader in saves (158) and was second to Roy Face in games (722) when he was traded to Philadelphia in 1985. On September 16, 1986 he broke Face’s NL record of 846 games pitched. Back in the set-up role, in 1987 he became the first NL pitcher to have three 90-appearance seasons and, at age 40, the oldest pitcher to lead the NL in appearances. He broke Sparky Lyle‘s ML record for career games pitched without a start (finishing the season at 943), and helped closer Steve Bedrosian win the Cy Young Award. Let go after 1988, he signed with the Reds and broke Hoyt Wilhelm’s record for relief appearances. Midway through the season, with the Reds sinking in the standings, he retired rather than hang on just for the sake of topping Wilhelm’s record for total appearances.