As Bret Saberhagen walked to the mound tonight in Busch Stadium he had every reason to feel a little overwhelmed by life. Here he was, a few months past his 21st birthday and he was being asked to pitch Game 3 of the World Series with his Kansas City Royals facing a 2-0 deficit.
Okay, what about this then: Just before he went out to pitch, Saberhagen called his home in Kansas City, Mo., hoping to find his wife Janeane. She is nine months pregnant, due any moment. "She had already left to go watch the game at a friend's house," Saberhagen said. "I just left her a message telling her to hang in there." Wife due any minute in Kansas City. Husband pitching in St. Louis with 100 million people watching on television.
Oh, one more thing. Saberhagen was facing a St. Louis Cardinals team that had won five straight postseason games, three of them in the ninth inning. And he was pitching for a team that was desperate, having dropped two games at home.
Facing all that, Saberhagen went out tonight and stood the Cardinals on their collective beaks. He gave up six hits, struck out eight and retired the last 11 men after giving up three hits and the Cardinals' only run in the sixth inning.
He beat St. Louis, 6-1, pulled the Royals to within 2-1 in games, talked to television, talked to the press and then tried to call his wife. "She's on her way home," he said softly, sipping a beer. "She may have to go to the hospital tonight. I'll feel a lot better in a few minutes when I get to talk to her."
Saberhagen talked with his right arm during the game. He was the pitcher he had been through most of the season when he was 20-6 and was not the pitcher who was hit hard in his last start of the regular season and first start of the playoffs.
"Sabes had a couple of starts where his location wasn't quite as sharp as usual," catcher Jim Sundberg said. "But in the seventh game against Toronto he had it back but got hit on the hand and had to leave. Tonight was just typical Sabes. He pitched the way he's pitched all year."
That type of pitching had the Cardinals shaking their heads. "He doesn't overpower you or anything, he's no Dwight Gooden," said second baseman Tommy Herr. "My second time up I had him 3-1 and he threw a perfect pitch on the outside corner. I couldn't do anything with it."
Saberhagen struck cleanup hitter Jack Clark out three times. "Once with a curve, one with a fast ball, once with a change," Clark said. "Not bad for a kid. Not bad for anyone."
All of this while wondering in the dugout between innings how Janeane was doing. "I was surprised because I slept pretty good last night," Saberhagen said. "I guess I was just very tired.
"In the first inning I was unbelievably nervous. When Willie McGee got on, my knees were knocking out there. Anybody who tells you he isn't nervous pitching his first World Series game is crazy. But we got the double play and I settled into a rhythm after that."
The double play was a strikeout of Clark on a 3-2 pitch that nipped the outside corner with McGee running. Sundberg nailed him at third and, as it turned out, the Royals finally produced enough offense that the rest of the night was a cakewalk for Saberhagen.
"Boy, was I glad to see those runs," he said.
"Nothing gets to him," pitching Coach Gary Blaylock said. "He has the ability to focus in a way I've never seen before in a young pitcher. I knew tonight once he got out there, he would be able to concentrate, no matter what. All I was worried about was his stuff. He had it in the bullpen. I told (Manager) Dick (Howser) he would be fine."
He was more than fine.
The little matter of pitching his team back into the World Series solved, Saberhagen began searching for Janeane.
"I know I'll always remember this night," he said. "I know I won't sleep much tonight thinking about the game and the baby, but that's okay. This is a memory I'll treasure all my life. Someday I hope I can sit with my kid and watch a tape of this game and tell him (Drew) or her (Brittany) what I was thinking about.
"That will be fun. Now, I have to find my wife."