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Q&A: Saberhagen on early career, '85 World Series

October 21, 2016

Bret Saberhagen enjoyed a career in which he was a three-time All-Star and two-time winner of the American League Cy Young Award. He pitched in the postseason with the Royals (1984, '85), Rockies ('95) and Red Sox ('98, '99).And just this week, Saberhagen found out that when he started Game

Bret Saberhagen enjoyed a career in which he was a three-time All-Star and two-time winner of the American League Cy Young Award. He pitched in the postseason with the Royals (1984, '85), Rockies ('95) and Red Sox ('98, '99).
And just this week, Saberhagen found out that when he started Game 1 of the AL Championship Series for the Royals against the Tigers in 1984 at the age of 20 years, 175 days old, he had become the youngest pitcher to start a postseason game.
Saberhagen hadn't realized he held that distinction until Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías, at the age of 20 years, 68 games, drew the start in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against the Cubs on Wednesday and erased Saberhagen from the record book.
Saberhagen is the subject of this week's Q&A. So, Urias caught you off guard?
Saberhagen: I had no idea. I could have been bragging all these years. You made the jump from Double-A to the big leagues during the spring of 1984. Over the years, have you developed more of an appreciation for what you accomplished?
Saberhagen: You realize it's not as easy as it seemed. But I was 20, and [1984 ALCS start] wasn't a win-or-go-home game, so I wasn't nervous. The next year -- Game 7 of the World Series -- that was the most nervous I have ever been. If we win, we're champions. If we don't, we all go home and the Cardinals are champions. And if that happens, I feel like I let my teammates down, our fans down, the front office down. There was a lot of pressure on that, so I think with Urias and myself, being that young and that not being a closeout game, you still have butterflies and anxiety, but once you throw a few pitches and get into the flow of the game, you do what you are suppose to do -- try to keep your team in the ballgame. How special was that 84 season, jumping from Double-A to the big leagues at the age of 20?<br><b>Saberhagen:</b> What made it easier for me was Gooby [Mark Gubicza] was there, too. We both came up from Double-A. It didn't feel like I was on my own on an island. We did a lot of things together. We roomed together at home and part of the year on the road. It made the transition easier. George [Brett] took us under his wing. Blackie [Buddy Black] and Charlie [Leibrandt] were awesome mentors. And it goes back to [manager] Dick Howser giving me the opportunity and having the confidence in me at that age to be one of the guys.<br><b></b> Were you surprised to make the team?<br><b>Saberhagen:</b> I was hoping to make the Triple-A team. Right before Spring Training broke, Dick called me in his office. I assumed he was telling me I was going to go to Triple-A, and then he tells me I am going to the big leagues. It was like, "Really? You're not messing with me?"<br><b> </b>And all of that just set up the 1985 season?<br><b>Saberhagen:</b> Yeah, that first year I had a losing record, 10-11. Nothing that jumped out at you, but in 1985. ... I got off to a great start and things fell into place. The tough place was 1986. I went into Spring Training in 1986, and from Day 1, [I] tried to prove to everybody that I could put up the numbers I did the year before. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I ended up hurting my shoulder coming out of Spring Training and was never the same pitcher I was in 1985. Now that following year, 1987, I went into Spring Training with a better mindset. I didn't put as much pressure on myself.<br><b></b> Nolan Ryan said it wasn't until years after going to the World Series in 1969 with the Mets that he realized how hard it was to get there. Did you feel that way?<br><b>Saberhagen:</b> Yeah, 100 percent. It was like, OK, we are going to the postseason every year. The first year we lost to the Tigers [in the ALCS], and they won the world championship. That was one of the best teams I played against. The next season we win the World Series. I mean, what else are you going to think? Then reality sets in. There are no guarantees.<br><b></b> In the85 World Series, you guys lose the first two games to St. Louis, and then you go out and give up one run in nine innings. And then, in Game 7, you go up against John Tudor and pitch a shutout. Were you nervous?
Saberhagen: I don't think I felt my feet touch the ground until the third inning. Yet you pitched that shutout. Did it help to have a 5-0 lead after three innings?
Saberhagen: It was great. If you can go out there and shut them down for a few innings and your team puts a few numbers on the board, it is a big relief. You don't feel like one mistake is going to cost you the game. The Royals that postseason rallied from 3-games-to-1 deficits against both the Blue Jays in the ALCS and the Cardinals in the World Series. You didn't want to win the easy way?
Saberhagen: I think the fact we came off winning the ALCS after trailing 3 games to 1 made it easier in the World Series. We felt the Cardinals had the pressure on them to win after winning three or four games, especially pressure in Game 7. What really sticks out about the World Series is that you, Leibrandt and Danny Jackson made two starts each. You pitched 18 innings, Charlie 16 1/3 and Danny 16. A bit different than 30 years later?
Saberhagen: I guess there is more ways than one to skin a cat. The game has changed in that aspect. You have so many great arms in the bullpen now. When you have that ability to do it with so many different guys, it makes a manager's job a dream job. He can just call on anybody at any given time and have guys with great breaking stuff, offspeed stuff and a 95-plus fastball.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for