Charlie Leibrandt can't forget.
For five days, he has tried again and again to block out the memories of last Sunday. That night, in Game 2 of the World Series, he was one out away from a brilliant shutout victory.
But he couldn't get that last out. Instead, the St. Louis Cardinals rallied for four runs, won the game and took a 2-0 lead over Leibrandt's Kansas City Royals in the Series. And, because they won that game, they take a 3-2 lead into Saturday's sixth game here (WJLA-TV-7, 8:25 p.m.) and will attempt for a second time to wrap up their 10th world championship.
Standing between the Cardinals and that title is Leibrandt.
Today, on a stunning fall day, lit up by all the reds, yellows and browns of the season and temperatures that climbed into the 70s, Leibrandt came home and, looking ahead, forced himself to look back.
"I'm glad to get another chance," he said. "Sunday was one of the most bitter losses I can ever remember. I spent a couple of days going over that ninth inning in my mind, thinking about the pitches I threw. They were the same pitches I threw for eight innings, but not with the same results."
Leibrandt's opponent Saturday will be the same man he faced in Game 2, Danny Cox. The often-snarling, mustachioed Cox has been nursing a sore elbow for the past couple of weeks and today declined the opportunity to discuss his condition with the media.
But third baseman Terry Pendleton, even though he said all the right things about the Cardinals' confidence in Cox, admitted his team was somewhat shocked to be back here.
"We really wanted to end it at home," Pendleton said. "But Kansas City's come back on people all year. Ask Toronto. We're not too happy to be back here at all. We know we have to face a tough pitcher tomorrow."
Leibrandt is the one member of the Royals' starting rotation who is not a hard thrower. He is a finesse pitcher, a man who was an obscure spot starter-long reliever in the Cincinnati Reds organization until he found new life here in 1984.
"I think the key for me has been peace of mind," said Leibrandt, who was 17-9 this season and had the American League's second-lowest ERA (2.69). "In Cincinnati, I was in and out of the bullpen, and I'm not good in relief. My stuff isn't good enough. I'm a control pitcher. I need time out there.
"Here, I've gotten it. In Cincinnati, I thought my stuff was lousy. Now, I have a lot of confidence in myself."
If being here has brought Leibrandt success, it has not brought him much postseason luck. Last year, he started Game 3 of the playoffs against the Detroit Tigers. He gave up one run and three hits in eight innings. He was superb. He also lost, 1-0.
This year, in Game 4 of the playoffs against Toronto, he took a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning. A walk and a double tied the game. Leibrandt exited and Dan Quisenberry gave up the winning runs. In Game 7, Leibrandt came back to get the clinching victory in relief.
"People said the Blue Jays had him figured out and he stood them on their ear in that seventh game," Manager Dick Howser said. "I don't think people figure Charlie Leibrandt out. He's just a good pitcher."
Leibrandt was a great pitcher for eight innings in Game 2. He had the Cardinals shut out on two hits and no one -- repeat no one -- had hit a ball hard. One longtime baseball authority watching in the press box announced after the eighth inning that only Don Larsen's perfect game could be considered a better pitching performance than Leibrandt's.
But it all came apart in the nightmarish ninth. All with two outs. Willie McGee was on second. First, Jack Clark's single made it 2-1. Tito Landrum doubled on a one-two pitch. Cesar Cedeno was walked intentionally to load the bases. And finally, with millions of people expecting Howser to bring Quisenberry in, Pendleton hit a three-run double to decide the game.
"It was a change-up out over the plate," Leibrandt said today, still wincing slightly at the memory. "I sort of wish I had the pitch back. Maybe I'd have thrown a better change or a fast ball in on the hands. I've thought about it a lot. But who knows. If you think about things too much in this game, you'll go crazy. I just have to go on.
"I know Dick got second-guessed a lot for not bringing Quiz in. But that's part of baseball. I really always thought I would get the last out. So did he. He came up to me the next day and told me not to worry about it, that they were going to give me the ball again in the sixth game.
"I'm just glad to have another chance."
It is almost impossible not to empathize with Leibrandt. He is an easy-smiling, soft-spoken man with curly brown hair that is starting to sneak up his forehead, and the kind of even temperament that seems to characterize the Royals. Sunday, for the only time in his life, he refused to talk to reporters.
"I just couldn't face the pain of rehashing what happened," he said. "I knew I was going to have to face it by myself, but I couldn't deal with standing there and going over it again. I just wanted to go home."
He went home and then his team went on the road, winning two of three in St. Louis to throw the Series back here. Only one team in the regular season, the New York Mets, won two games out of three at Busch Stadium after the All-Star break, so what the Royals accomplished was no mean feat.
"Maybe we just don't start fighting until it's too late," Leibrandt said, laughing. "Our concentration just gets better when we fall behind. We don't feel like the pressure is on us. Nobody really expects us to win. But coming home to our own ballpark, we feel good about our chances."
The Royals feel good because they have held the Cardinals to a .196 batting average for five games, because they have been behind before and survived and because they will be pitching Leibrandt Saturday and Bret Saberhagen if there is a Sunday.
"We're just not hitting the ball against these guys," Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog admitted. "You can talk about the Mets' pitching or the Dodgers' pitching, but these guys can pitch with anybody."
Which is exactly why the Royals, even with their anemic lineup, know they have a chance. "We're still going out there knowing that one loss is fatal," Howser said. "The stakes are as high as they come. One team will be the world champions. The other team no one will remember five years from now. That's just the way it is."
Which is exactly why Charlie Leibrandt is savoring this chance for redemption.
Sunday, as he left the locker room, he paused briefly as he walked past a friend.
"Next time," he said, his voice barely a whisper.
For Charlie Leibrandt, Saturday is next time.
The Royals' pitchers, who did not hit all season, are zero for 12 at the plate with two sacrifices. Danny Jackson tied a Series record by striking out five times before reaching on Ozzie Smith's error Thursday. "We all thought they should have given Danny a hit," Leibrandt said. "It was a miracle that he put the ball in play . . . "
If the Royals win Game 6, Saberhagen will face John Tudor in Game 7 Sunday. If the Royals were to come back and win the Series, they would be the first team to do so after losing the first two games at home.