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Glory Days: Bret Saberhagen

By Will DeBoer

While nothing materialized for the Mets over the Winter Meetings, one of the teams constantly linked to a potential trade for R.A. Dickey was the Kansas City Royals, who were not willing to move top prospect Wil Myers for the knuckleballer. Today on “Glory Days” we highlight a player the Royals were willing to move to New York back in 1991: Bret Saberhagen.

June 05, 2011; Flushing, NY, USA; The New York Mets logo behind home plate before a game against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field. The Mets defeated the Braves 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Andrew B. Fielding-USA TODAY Sports

Dateline: April 29, 1992. The Houston Astros are in town to take on Jeff Torborg’s Amazin’ squad. Already three years removed from a Cy Young season with the Royals, Saberhagen has struggled in his first month with the Mets. After allowing seven, seven, and five runs in his first three starts, many fans began to question whether it was worth shipping off Gregg Jeffires, Kevin McReynolds, and Keith Miller for this guy. But Bret got it together in his last start, tossing nine shutout innings in a no-decision against St. Louis the week before. He would do just a little better today.

Saberhagen retired six Astros in a row to start the game, including notables Craig Biggio, Steve Finley, Jeff Bagwell, and Luis Gonzalez. In the bottom of the 2nd, Eddie Murray led off with a flyball double against Darryl Kyle. Todd Hundley struck out and Murray went to third on a wild pitch. Up came Daryl Boston, who got the home team on the board with a line drive single. The Mets would not get another run off Kyle, who went the distance and struck out 11. He was good that day at Shea, but his counterpart was great.

Saberhagen was mowing through the Houstonites, not allowing a hit until the 5th inning. The team behind him was striking out like no other but so was the team he faced. Back-to-back Ks to end the 8th gave Bret eight on the day. But there were still three outs to go, and this is when things got iffy.

Pinch-hitter Eric Anthony led off the 9th with a single, just the second hit against Saberhagen on the day. Biggio and Finley failed to advance pinch-runner Eric Yelding, but the Astros stayed alive on a single up the middle by Bagwell, a clean player who should have a place in Cooperstown (but that’s another point entirely). Up came Luis Gonzalez, who nine years later would be a World Series hero after bloop-singling the Diamondbacks over the Yankees. He would not get the chance today: Saberhagen blew him away with a looking strikeout, bringing those who remained of the 16,400 at Shea Stadium to their feet in celebration of a 1-0 victory. Saberhagen’s final line: complete-game, three-hit, one-walk shutout.

Unfortunately for Bret and the Mets, that glorious start in April of his first year was about as good as it would get. Two DL stints would limit him to 15 starts in ’92, and he only started 19 games for the ’93 “worst team that money could buy.” A solid full season in ’94 was cut short by the strike, and Saberhagen was traded to the Rockies at the ’95 deadline for chump change. If not for Oliver Perez’s presence on the list, Bret Saberhagen would be the starting pitcher for New York’s team of all-time imported busts.

April 29. A good day for Joe Adcock in 1953 (first player to homer to dead center at the Polo Grounds) and Steve Carlton in 1981 (first lefty to strike out 3,000 in his career). Also a good day for the Allies in 1945 (German army in Italy surrenders one day before Hitler’s demise). A bad day for the Dutch people in 1672 (King Louis XIV of France invades the Netherlands) and squeamish theatergoers in 1968 (Hair opens on Broadway). A great day for Bret Saberhagen in 1992.

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