KANSAS CITY — Champagne on his head, an MVP trophy in his arms, a World Series victory under his belt, a newborn baby in the nursery, and the President waiting for him on the phone.
Oh, to be Bret Saberhagen for just a minute Sunday night.
This was a remarkable man in a remarkable time. Man? Did I say man? If 21 counts, then OK, he is. The youngest to ever start a seventh game of a World Series. And certainly the youngest to win it — with an 11-0 shutout, no less. But to watch Bret Saberhagen is to watch a latter-day Huck Finn, coasting through all the glories you could imagine with a crooked smile, a stringy little mustache and an innocence that suggests he might be whitewashing fences in some other life and be perfectly happy.
“This is a dream come true,” he said in his squeaky voice, wiping the foamy liquid out of his eyes. And surely he was speaking for almost every category of American out there. Lost weekend? You bet.
LET’S SEE, there was the five-hit shutout he had just thrown to assure his team the World Series and assure himself the MVP trophy.
“This belongs to everybody,” he said, hoisting up the silver trophy. “I might have pitched two games, but these guys were out there all the time.”
None performed as masterfully as Saberhagen during this Series, however. He pitched two games, and he finished two games, in a Series where the designated
hitter didn’t exist, and the likelihood of him having to come out of the game for a pinch hitter was great.
Bottom line: 18 innings pitched, one run allowed.
Not too shabby, huh?
Then of course, there was the baby, Drew William, nine pounds, three ounces; born, naturally, on Saturday morning, a day Daddy didn’t have to pitch, so that he could be there in the delivery room. And to Saberhagen’s credit, amidst all that was happening to him, he was still suitably overwhelmed.
“Is this your happiest moment?” someone had asked him after Sunday’s game.
“No, when my son was born, that has to rank as the best moment. Being in the delivery room, seeing the birth, everything going OK. That was the best. This was second.”
OK, DREW WILLIAM. Here’s a story you’ll be able to tell your friends. As if Daddy’s performance on the mound wasn’t enough Sunday, in the fifth inning he played — hold your baby breath — baserunner.
Having reached first on a fielder’s choice, he listened as first base coach Jose Martinez told him: “No matter what, don’t slide. Don’t slide.”
He then saw Lonnie Smith smash a ball down the right field line, and took off around the bases. Second, third, headed for home. Of course you know what happens next. This is a fairy tale, remember.
“It was a close play, so I slid,” Saberhagen said, flashing that crooked smile. “In high school I was the worst slider ever. I would get raspberries on my hips, scratch myself all up. I was just lucky I didn’t hurt myself tonight.”
Of course not. He was safe at home, got up, dusted himself off and went back out to finish the dream game.
Which brings us to the MVP. There were other possible candidates, not the least of which was George Brett or Willie Wilson. But Saberhagen was so excellent whenever he was in the game, it was difficult to deny him.
AND THERE’S another award likely on the horizon. The Cy Young.
“I can’t believe it,” he said, when that was mentioned. “I mean, what else is there? What else is left? It feels like the world is at my feet.”
One only hopes Saberhagen can keep it all in perspective. Floods of success have a way of washing you away. But if there was ever a candidate for early even-headedness, it’s this guy.
“He’s a unique individual,” said KC pitching coach Gary Blaylock. “Look at what’s happened to him this year, and he still goes on, same as usual.”
Which for Saberhagen means chomping on chicken wings in the post-game clubhouse, nestled between his pitching buddies, cracking a few jokes, drinking a beer — he is, after all, 21 — and letting it all wash over him.
If the Royals were a team destined to be hit by the glorious lightning, then Saberhagen was the conductor. If theirs was the dream of the organization, then his was the dream of the individual. Champagne, baby, trophy, and, oh yeah, the President. How fitting that on a night when every Huck Finn’s daydream comes true, the politician can come in no higher than fourth.