So what was he thinking about before this critical Game 3, with his team on the ropes and his wife on the couch back home, great with child? His curveball? Willie McGee? Lamaze? Nope. His batting. Taking his cuts. "I was extremely excited at the idea of hitting in the major leagues," says Saberhagen, a .400 hitter in high school who had been, till two weeks ago, deprived of the pleasures of striking out, missing signs and failing to sacrifice runners along because of the AL's designated-hitter rule. "I was talking more about that before the game than pitching. I pitch every five days. It's almost old hat."
Old hat? The fifth-youngest pitcher ever to start a World Series game describing the experience as old hat? Is this guy for real? But he meant it. Saberhagen knew what he could do on the mound. He felt strong, and his hand was fully recovered from the line drive. He would do all right out there, and if he didn't, well, the sun would rise tomorrow. What he didn't know was whether he could hit big league pitching, and what former high school hitting star doesn't long for a chance to learn? So Sabes stood around the batting cage before the game with his good friend George Brett, getting tips on his swing from the master. Brett and Saberhagen, a pair of Southern California transplants who are cut from the same loose cloth according to nearly everyone's assessment, including Saberhagen's. "Aside from the obvious difference that he's single and I'm married, we're a lot alike," says Saberhagen, who lived with Brett at the start and finish of the 1984 season, his rookie year. "We're both practical jokers, enjoy the outdoors, like the same kinds of sports. And we're the same way about being there in the big situation. George wants to drive in the game-winning run, and I like to get the last out."
"The kid has no fear," Bob Saberhagen, Bret's father, has said. "Never did."
The elder Saberhagen, 41, is now a computer executive out of Chatsworth, Calif., but a few years ago he ran a private aviation firm in the San Fernando Valley. His son was always hanging around the office, so Father arranged for the 11-year-old Sabes to take flying lessons. After several sessions, Bob called them off. "I was worried for him," Bob recalled recently. "Most people have some healthy fear of flying—it's just a prudent caution—but Bret had none of that. He saw flying the way he sees a hitter like Reggie Jackson or Dave Win-field at the plate: as just something to beat. That's a bad thing for a pilot."
But a great thing for a pitcher. If Sabes had been the least bit cautious he would never have thrown the pitch that changed the Royals' fortunes in the 1985 Series. It came in the bottom of the first inning of that third game, with Cardinal base runners on first and second and one out. Cleanup hitter Jack Clark was batting, and the count was full. The momentum was all St. Louis's—two-games-to-zero lead, home fans giddy with the smell of Royal blood, and the memory of the four ninth-inning runs that had won Game 2 fresh in everyone's mind. Clark fouled off two fastballs.
The runners, McGee and Tommy Herr, were running on the pitch—Cardinal baseball, guys; the heat is on!—so on Saberhagen's third 3-2 delivery he held the ball a moment longer, freezing McGee at second. Then he broke off a slider that caught Clark looking, and Royals catcher Jim Sundberg nailed McGee at third to complete the double play. A slider on the inside corner, no less, despite the fact that all the Royals' scouting reports had said to pitch Clark away. Saberhagen doesn't know why he threw it there. He just did. "He's almost like a piano player who sits down and plays and has never taken a lesson," says Royals pitching coach Gary Blaylock. "It's like he's resurrected. The pitch that he threw to Jack Clark was pure instinct. I will probably remember it for as long as I live."
Cards manager Whitey Herzog was still muttering about the pitch three hours later, after the Royals had completed the 6-1 win. "I've never seen a better young pitcher," he said of Saberhagen. "He's phenomenal. [Dwightl Gooden is more overpowering, but when he gets behind 2-0, Gooden's going to come at you with the fastball. This kid can surprise you. He got a couple of strikeouts on changeups that I would never have thought possible for someone so young."
Saberhagen gave up just six singles and a walk in throwing the complete game, striking out eight. (He also did fine at the plate, hitting a hard line foul in the third and laying down a perfect sacrifice bunt in the fourth.) But if his performance on the mound convinced the Cards that they were up against someone special, his performance in the dugout convinced the American public. As the Royals batted in the top of the eighth inning, Sabes, egged on by an ABC cameraman, sent his eloquent message over the airwaves to Janeane. You O.K.? Hold on, I'll be home soon, but I'm having one hell of a time till I get there. This final note was sent via the most infectious grin captured on television since—when?—the members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team climbed up to collect their gold medals? It meshed innocence and happiness and all those other things that show so keenly at 21. Fresh-faced and trusting as a puppy, Saberhagen proved a nice change from the sour and dour Cards, and there were suddenly about 40 million Royals fans out there in Don't-Bother-To-Show-Me Land.
"Bret? Wake up, Bret." It was 6:30 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 26. Saberhagen had been asleep for only about four hours when he heard, "My water broke."