Sabes? Yoo-hoo, Sabes? Don't go to sleep yet. Let those eyes close now and cloud nine might just—poof!—vaporize and send you plummeting out of the stratosphere, down-down-down into the world of 4 a.m. feedings and messy diapers and ear infections and croup and waaaaaiiillling night and day and.... Sabes? Just a little longer, fella. Miles to go and all that. Then tomorrow you meet the President—Jim Quisenberry's biggest fan—and on Monday a new car. After that, maybe the Cy Young. And your contract! My heavens, just think about the seven-figure contract you'll be signing. And then...Sabes? Oh, Saaabes....
The lids over Bret Saberhagen's pale-blue eyes were half-mast and sinking. Every few seconds they would hit bottom and then blink open again in a flurry of confusion and embarrassment, like skirts caught in a gust of wind. "I'm so sleepy," he yawned, snuggling his lean 6'1" body into the backseat of the rented four-door sedan as it hummed along 1-35, past ponds and cornfields and the young shoots of winter wheat between Wichita and Kansas City. Hogging the seat beside him was a giant stuffed bear named Polar, grinning idiotically as it took Sabes into its arms. Sabes and Polar were heading home from a charity golf tournament, an event so cold and miserable that the highlight for Saberhagen came on the 15th wind-chilled hole of The Tallgrass Club in Wichita when crusty old Hank Bauer—who once hit in 17 straight World Series games—came steaming over the rise on a golf cart bearing coffee and Kahlua. "I'm getting pneumonia out here," said Saberhagen.
"You old enough to drink yet?" chided Royals trainer Mickey Cobb, brandishing the Kahlua.
"He's old enough to do any bleeping thing he wants to after his year," said Bauer as he filled the cup to the rim—with vim.
And what Sabes wanted right now was sleep...just sleep...then home to 4-day-old Drew William and Janeane. You remember them. Not-so-little Drew, who, but for a few chromosomal X's and Y's, would have been Brittany—Britt Saberhagen, oh, that's nice. And fair Janeane, Sabes's 20-year-old wife, to whom he signaled through your living room television as if she were sitting right there beside you, for goodness' sake, patting his tummy expectantly in the process of pitching the Kansas City Royals—Motherhood's Team—back into the Show Me World Series.
Not yet, Bret. Twenty-one-year-olds don't need sleep. Not when they're living a dream that keeps getting better the longer it lasts. The question is not, When will it end? It is, When did it begin? The 20th victory of your season? A 3-1 five-hitter over California's John Candelaria that halted a three-game Royals skid and lifted K.C. into a tie with the Angels with six games left on the schedule? The seventh game of the AL playoffs? The start of the Series? Game 3 of the Series? The birth of Drew? The conception of Drew? The conception of you? Just when exactly was it that reality became suspended and the magic kicked in?
Sabes, heavy-lidded, laid his head against Polar's white, willing shoulder. "I go back to the first Series game we won," he says.
The third game of the World Series was, obviously, essential to the Royals' cause. K.C. had lost the first two games at home, and no team in Series history had come back from a 3-0 deficit. The Royals—as fine a comeback team as they proved to be—would not have become the first. Not the way John Tudor, who would start Games 4 and 7 for the Cardinals, was pitching. Saberhagen had to beat Joaquin Andujar, or St. Louis, in all probability, would have swept the Series and the Royals would have remained what, in the eyes of most observers, they had always been: merely the strongest of the weak sisters of the American League West.
Saberhagen had not exactly been Mr. October up till then. Since winning his 20th game on Sept. 30, Sabes had been knocked out of the box by Oakland in K.C.'s next-to-last game of the season—the eventual division clincher when the Royals overcame a four-run Oakland lead—and by Toronto in Game 3 of the AL playoffs. Against the Blue Jays he was hit on the foot by a line shot and ended up surrendering five runs on nine hits in just 4? innings. "I wasn't busting them enough inside," says Saberhagen, who throws fastballs on about 75% of his pitches—a heater that averages about 90 mph, but, on occasion, has been clocked as high as 94. He came back to start Game 7 against the Blue Jays, but left after three scoreless innings, having been struck on the palm of his pitching hand by another line drive. The Royals had been winning—and losing—without their ace. Saberhagen had a lot left to prove in postseason play.