Cesar Cedeno sat at a table in the St. Louis Cardinals' locker room tonight with the spoils of his evening in front of him: two pieces of chicken, an ear of corn, a beer and two pieces of a broken bat.
"I hope I do something better than tonight," he said, picking up the bat and examining it. "But if I don't, maybe I'll keep this. No matter what happens, no one can say I didn't get a game-winning RBI in a World Series."
It was with that broken bat that Cedeno drove in what turned out to be the game-winner in the Cardinals' 3-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals in Game 1 of the World Series tonight.
The broken-bat hit came in the fourth inning with the score tied, 1-1. Tito Landrum, who had doubled, was on second base. On a 1-2 pitch, Danny Jackson ran a cut fastball in on Cedeno's hands. Cedeno fought the pitch off and looped it down the left field line, shattering the bat in the process.
"He threw me a good pitch," Cedeno said. "I was looking outside and he came inside. I was lucky to hit it. But it counts. It still counts and after all these years it feels really good."
Cedeno giggled. "I'm just a rookie at this," he said gleefully. "Can you be a rookie of the year after 16 years in the majors?"
No. But you can find your career suddenly born again. That is what has happened to Cedeno. On Aug. 29 he was languishing on the Cincinnati Reds' bench. He was angry, frustrated and concerned that his career was in jeopardy. There were rumors he would be traded to Cleveland.
"If that had happened," he said. "I would have quit."
Cedeno was hitting .240 for the Reds. He had been playing regularly in the outfield for the Reds until May 17, when he made the mistake of going to Manager Pete Rose to ask for a couple of days rest. Rose inserted Gary Redus in his place and Redus got hot.
Redus was 24, Cedeno 34. Cedeno wasn't about to get back in the lineup. He began to feel a little bit like a modern-day Wally Pipp.
"I never really had any luck with Cincinnati," said Cedeno of the team he was traded to by Houston in 1981. "A lot of things happened there and when Pete came in they decided to go with young players . . . I asked Pete to try to trade me and I'm glad he did."
Rose might not have had the chance to trade Cedeno if not for a breakfast that St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog and Cincinnati pitching coach Jim Kaat had during the Cardinals' last visit to Cincinnati the last week in August.
Herzog had just placed first baseman Jack Clark on the disabled list and was desperate for a right-handed bat. Kaat, who finished his career as a pitcher under Herzog in St. Louis, mentioned the Reds were trying to move Cedeno.
Presto, trado -- and Cedeno had a new life. "That trade happened so fast it was amazing," he said. "I woke up on one morning thinking I might get traded to Toronto if I was lucky, and the next thing I know I'm in St. Louis."
It didn't take him long to make an impact. In his first at bat Aug. 30 against the Astros, Cedeno hit a home run. That started a tear that included a pinch-hit grand slam, a 10th-inning home run that beat the Mets, 1-0, in a crucial game, a five-for-five night against the Cubs and a .430 batting average.
"I always thought if I had a chance to play I could still produce," Cedeno said. "Whitey showed confidence in me by putting me up when it mattered and I'm really happy that I came through."
For Cedeno, who got his 2,000th major league hit this season, this is the happy culmination of a once-brilliant career that went sour. He was a phenom when he first arrived in Houston as a 19-year-old. In 1972, at the age of 21, he hit .320. He had a cannon for an arm, great speed (55 stolen bases that year), power (22 homers, 39 doubles) and the look of a superstar. A year later, he hit .320 again.
But that winter during the offseason he was involved in a shooting incident in Santo Domingo in which a woman died. Cedeno was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Although he missed no time, he was not the same player. He did not hit .300 again until 1980 when the Astros won the NL West and missed the World Series by one game.
"That's the closest I ever came to this," he said. "After I got traded to Cincinnati in '81 I thought maybe I would never get this chance. I feel very lucky to be here."
The Cardinals feel lucky to have him. "We might not be here if not for Cedeno," Clark said. "I hate to think of what might have happened if we hadn't gotten him."