If the team lost, he had already made plans to spend the night in the hospital with Janeane and Drew. So he settled down to watch the game from the dugout, the Royals' No. 1 cheerleader, as always. Only something happened around the fifth inning. He started to get nervous. Nervous that the Royals might lose. And suddenly he realized he would be disappointed if he didn't pitch Game 7. "I wanted to throw," he says now. And when Sundberg made his headfirst ninth-inning slide home to force the seventh and deciding game, you know who was on the lead of the mob out to congratulate him? Of course you do. Sabes.
Through the miracle of exhaustion Saberhagen got a good 10 hours of sleep Saturday night. He was just too tired to lie awake worrying about the game. The seventh game. So what if he would be the youngest pitcher ever to start one: 21 years, 6 months, 16 days.
His opponent was the southpaw Tudor, a testy New Englander with all the charisma of a Massachusetts state trooper. Already 2-0 in the Series, Tudor had been the winningest pitcher in baseball since May 29, with a 23-2 record including postseason play. Saberhagen had been almost as hot: 19-3 since May 7. It was the first matchup of 20-game winners in the seventh game of the Series since 1962, and in many ways this was a meeting of opposites.
As much as Sabes had enjoyed his World Series and brightened it for those around him, Tudor had despised his. Unaccustomed to the media crush that accompanies such world championship events, Tudor took every inconvenience personally. He would just as soon have been elsewhere. Saberhagen, of course, would not have been anywhere else. On the eve of the game, about the time that Saberhagen was hurrying back to St. Luke's hospital to bid good night to Janeane, Tudor told Peter Gammons of
The Boston Globe
, "There's something in me that would love to pitch this game. But as I sit here, I'd rather not pitch it...there's always that feeling deep down inside that if I should lose it would ruin the whole season, personally.... I keep thinking that sometime I'm going to go out there and not have good stuff, that all this is going to come to an end."
Confidence tempered by a good healthy fear of reality. Tudor would have made a good pilot. And in the seventh game it did come to an end, none too prettily, either. Tudor, unable to hit the strike zone, lasted 2? innings, his shortest stint of the season, allowing the first five runs of the Royals' 11-0 rout. Saberhagen breezed. Oh, sure, he was nervous—"The most nervous I've ever seen him before a game," says Blaylock—but to any man who has just gone face-to-face with a placenta, a first inning of Ozzie Smith, McGee and Herr looks like a walk in the park. Throwing virtually nothing but fastballs—Saberhagen delivered only 14 or 15 off-speed pitches the entire game—he got 18 Cardinals to either pop up or fly out. "They couldn't catch up to his fastball," says Sundberg. "He's like Catfish Hunter—you have to get him in the first couple of innings, or you're not going to get him at all."
Saberhagen gave up five singles and no walks. He went to three balls on a hitter only twice, both times after the Royals had chalked up the 11-run lead. Saberhagen's control is the cornerstone of his success—he walked only 38 batters in 235? innings during the season—and his control had never been better than in this, the biggest game of his life. "Every time I missed, I missed high or low or wide," he said afterward. "Never into the middle of the plate."
Standing on its own, it was a masterful performance—the first shutout thrown in a seventh game since Sandy Koufax did so in 1965. Given the events of the day before, the adrenaline he had burned and the emotions he had spent, the performance rises to a once-in-a-lifetime plateau. Unfortunately, in many ways Saberhagen's masterpiece was overshadowed by the Cardinals' disgrace under pressure and the lopsided nature of the score. Not that Saberhagen objected. Hell, a laugher was right up his alley. You know what Sabes was thinking about in those last few innings, when the game was so out of hand that the fat lady had left the ball park in disgust? He was hoping the Royals would get two more runs to make the final score 13-0, the same score as in his last high school game, when he pitched a no-hitter for Cleveland High of Reseda to win the 1982 Los Angeles city championship in Dodger Stadium. It was the only no-hitter in the 44-year history of the event. You don't think he thrives on big games? And it would have been a perfect game, too, except his second baseman booted a grounder. Superhagen his teammates called him after that.
But history wouldn't repeat. The Royals didn't want two more runs. They wanted to get the fool game over with. So did the Cardinals. In the last three innings, every time one of the Royals made an out, he was hailed back at the dugout with cheers. "Way to go, Frank! Way to go, George!" "They wanted to start celebrating," says Saberhagen. "It wasn't just a matter of waiting all year for this moment. Some of those guys had been waiting for a championship for 12, 13 years. Hal McRae. Frank White. They wanted the last out to hurry up and get there."
And when that moment was finally at hand—two outs in the ninth—Brett went over to the mound and told Saberhagen, "Don't you run away and forget about me after this out."