Kent Tekulve vs. Johnny Bench


BRADENTON, Fla. — One of the lasting images of the Pirates’ magical 1979 season is Kent Tekulve sidearming a pitch to Baltimore’s Pat Kelly, whose fly ball to center was the final out of Game 7.

Teke’s unusual delivery — the ball coming from down under, amid a tangle of lanky arms and legs — befuddled batters. But it wasn’t a simple matter of throwing from an odd angle and hoping hitters would flop. Tekulve waged a 15-year war of moves and counter-moves against opponents. He details that process tomorrow in the debut of the Trib’s Sunday baseball page.

Here are two yarns from Teke that didn’t fit in the print edition:

Batters changed their approaches against Teke. Well, almost all of them did …

“The one guy who was the exception was (Johnny) Bench. For the 12 or 13 years we played against each other, Johnny Bench had the same approach every time he went to the plate against me, and most of the time it failed. We were somewhere after I retired and I asked him, ‘Why didn’t you every change?’ His philosophy was really pretty sound. He said, ‘I was not going to let one at-bat against you and make changes screw up what I was doing against everybody else.’ He was willing to sacrifice that at-bat, even if the game was on the line, to be productive against everybody else. The program that he was running was doing real well against everybody else. I just happened to be that one guy he couldn’t get. He wasn’t going to put himself in a bad position against everybody else because he had tried to make an adjustment against me. You’ve got to be pretty confident in what you’re doing to be able to do that.”

(Note: In 34 career plate appearances against Tekulve, Bench went 11 for 33 — the only extra-base hits were three doubles — with five strikeouts and two RBI.)

Teke’s delivery was a challenge for pitching coaches …

“Because the style was different, I pretty much ran my own program. That particularly was the case when I got traded to Philadelphia. Claude Osteen was the pitching coach there. When I got traded there in April ’85, it was, ‘Hi, how ya doing? I don’t understand a bit of what you do. I’m not going to try to sit here and tell you this or that just because I’m the pitching coach and I need to tell you something. As we go through this first year, you tell me what you’re doing.’ So if I was all of a sudden leaving the sinker away from left-handers, then make an adjustment to get it back, I’d sit down (in the dugout) and tell Claude, ‘I wasn’t getting the ball enough away. I wasn’t getting my shoulders closed quite enough. Once I got them closed, I was able to get my arm back and …’ I was able to give him a litany of my adjustments, so he knew what to look for. By the time we got to year two, we had been through stuff that he could come to me and say, ‘You’re not getting your shoulder turned.’ But at the beginning, he didn’t have the slightest idea what I was doing. As he put it, ‘The first year, you’ll teach me what you do. The second year, I’ll help you with what you do.’ That takes a lot, for a guy who’s getting paid to be the major league pitching coach, to say, ‘I can’t help you. You need to teach me before I can help you.’ I was very, very impressed when I heard that come out of his mouth the first time because I was not used to hearing pitching coaches say, ‘You’re different. I don’t know what to do with you.’ “