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The AP is reporting Sunday that former Astros pitcher and coach Vern Ruhle died Saturday night of complications from his treatment for bone marrow cancer.

Ruhle spent all of seven years pitching for the Astros, and will always be remembered by those who care about the club for the pivotal role he played in the team's first division championship in 1980. Ruhle began the year as a swingman behind more storied names like Ryan and Niekro and JR Richard and even Ken Forsch, but entered the rotation in July after All-Star Game starter Richard experienced his tragic stroke.

Ruhle went 7 - 2 with a 1.98 the rest of the way, while posting a WHIP under 1.00. Perhaps most amazingly, Ruhle gave gave up exactly one home run in those 86-1/3 innings down the stretch.

At the team history pages on Astrosdaily, Bob Hulsey calls Ruhle "the quiet hero" of the team's first title, and there is little doubt this is is true. When called to step up by dire and tragic circumstance, Vern Ruhle was absolute nails.

Ruhle was never again as good for the Astros, or for anyone else, but he had a nice season in '81, as well, contributing to the team's split-season divisional championship, throwing 100 innings and finishing the campaign with a 113 ERA+.

Ruhle posted some ERAs and hit rates that were a little high before he left the team in 1984, but he never stopped being a guy who limited his free passes. In fact, Ruhle remains one of only six pitchers in Astros history who threw more than 500 innings while keeping his walks per nine innings under 2.00.

Afer finishing his career with the Angels, Ruhle would return to the Astros organization in 1997 under new manager Larry Dierker. While his tenure as pitching coach ended badly after the abysmal performance turned in by Astros' hurlers during the team's inaugural season at the ballpark on Crawford Street, it is worth remembering that Darryl Kile, Mike Hampton, and Shane Reynolds each turned in their best seasons--by wins or by ERA, take your pick--under Ruhle's tutelage.

Astros Career of 500 IP, and BB/9 under 2.00
Pitcher BB IP BB/9IP
Dick Farrell 212 1015.0 1.880
Ken Johnson 151 690.7 1.968
Jose Lima 176 804.0 1.970
Roy Oswalt 263 1201.3 1.970
Shane Reynolds 358 1622.3 1.986
Vern Ruhle 166 749.7 1.993
Astros With More Than One Start in 1980
Pitcher W - L Pct ERA IP K BB
Vern Ruhle 12 -   4 .750 2.37 159.3 55 29
J.R. Richard 10 -   4 .714 1.90 113.7 119 40
Joe Niekro 20 - 12 .625 3.55 256.0 127 79
Nolan Ryan 11 - 10 .524 3.35 233.7 200 98
Ken Forsch 12 - 13 .480 3.20 222.3 84 41
Joaquin Andujar   3 -   8 .273 3.91 122.0 75 43
Gordy Pladson   0 -   4 .000 4.35 41.3 13 16

I remember hearing that Ruhle was undergoing cancer treatment during Spring Training of '06. From time to time, we all hear such things, then go on about our lives, as the person afflicted goes on to fight for theirs.

Unfortunately, Ruhle lost his fight.

Condolences of course go out from The Crawfish Boxes to all those who knew him.