Dick Howser has said it so many times that he is beginning to sound like one of those airport recordings that drone on and on.
"As long as we've got our pitching," Howser has said time and again, "we've got a chance."
Repetitious, perhaps, but absolutely accurate. The Kansas City Royals, an ordinary baseball team at seven positions (the third baseman is rather exceptional), simply won't die.
They trailed the American League West leaders, the California Angels, by 7 1/2 games in July. They won the division.
They trailed the Toronto Blue Jays, 3-1, in the American League Championship Series. They won the pennant.
And tonight, trailing in the World Series, 3-1, they sent 53,634 ready-to-celebrate fans storming for the exits early with a thorough 6-1 beating of the St. Louis Cardinals.
"If I had stood up in front of the team to say anything to encourage them, all I would have done is say, 'We've got Danny Jackson pitching,' " Manager Howser said. "And Saturday, I'll say the same thing about Charlie Leibrandt and, the next day -- I hope -- about Bret Saberhagen. These guys are that good. Anytime we go out to play, we have a chance because of them."
Jim Sundberg, the veteran catcher who helps keep the young pitchers straight when they get into trouble, agreed with Howser.
"We may be down, 3-1, but we know in almost any game (that) if we can score three runs we can win the game," he said. "That gives you confidence because scoring three runs is far from impossible, even if you aren't a great hitting club."
Even the Cardinals, a club that does not enjoy acknowledging the opposition, have had to concede the Royals can pitch.
"They've given up 12 runs in five games -- not bad," Manager Whitey Herzog said. "We're just not hitting the ball well. You have to credit their pitching for that."
This pitching staff came together in the spring of 1984 largely because the Royals, devastated by four drug arrests in 1984, decided they had to go back to square one, turn the team over to young players and build around young arms.
Howser remembers that during spring training that season, a year when the Royals were picked to finish last in the American League West, George Brett came to him with a smile on his face.
"It was real early," Howser said. "We were playing intrasquad games. George came in and said to me, 'Hey, we've got guys here who can strike people out.' We had never had that before. We'd always been a finesse pitching team. The big question was, could they throw strikes?"
The answer was yes. In '84, Howser went with a rotation of Bud Black, then 25; Bret Saberhagen, who was 20; Mark Gubicza, 22; Jackson, 24, and the old man, Leibrandt, a 27-year-old retread out of the Cincinnati Reds' organization. Two seasons later, they still are young but now they are a formidable five-man rotation.
"I think coming up together and seeing each other get better has helped," Sundberg said. "They feed on each other's confidence. They've all grown up together. Each one expects the others to do well, and they do."
Jackson and Black each struggled this season, notably in August and September. With five games left in the season, the Royals trailed the Angels by one game, with Black and Jackson pitching the last two games of a series against the Angels. Black pitched a shutout. Jackson came within one out of a shutout. Both won. Since then, they both have been superb.
"It's confidence, no doubt about it," Jackson said. "I got mine back in the Angels game. Ever since then, I've gone out feeling like I had good stuff and I know if I do, I can get people out. Tonight, I was a little nervous early because I felt a little weird on the mound."
Weird enough that in the first inning, Jackson gave up back-to-back doubles to Tommy Herr and Jack Clark. Sundberg admitted to a brief scare. "When a team that only needs one win jumps on you a little in the first inning, you get a little scared," he said. "But after that, Danny just shut them down."
Indeed he did, allowing only two singles from the second through eighth innings before tiring slightly in the ninth. Not enough to help the Cardinals, however. After two Cardinals got on, Jackson got Tom Nieto to ground to shortstop for the final out.
"I don't think any of us ever thought we were out of this thing," said second baseman Frank White. "We get behind, we don't get uptight. If you've got the pitching, you've got a chance. That's the old baseball axiom. We're proof that it's true."
After the Royals fell behind Toronto, 3-1, Brett insisted the pressure was on the Blue Jays. He later admitted that was "a stupid statement." But now all the Royals have picked up on that rallying cry, stupid or not. Saberhagen went so far as to say -- half jokingly -- Wednesday that, "Now we've got them right where we want them, ahead of us, 3-1."
Joking or not, it is now 3-2. And Saturday, the Royals have Leibrandt. And Sunday, they have Saberhagen . . . "I just hope," Howser said with a smile, "that Sabes gets a chance to live up to his quotes."
The Royals have a chance. They have the pitching.