Notorious for being an odd year pitcher, Sabes, on the short list of pitchers with two Cy Young Awards, excelled in years that ended in odd numbers but when that straggling digit was even, Bret was rarely in top form. When he finally reversed this trend, a new problem struck: injuries. Had Saberhagen been a bit more resilient, he could have been a 200-game winner.
Drafted in the 19th round by the Royals in 1982, Bret was up with the parent club for good just two years later. Sabes won ten games as a rookie and helped the Royals reach the postseason. In the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers, the freshman posted a 2.25 ERA but was handed a no decision in his only start.
Saberhagen avoided the Sophomore Jinx brilliantly when he won the 1985 Cy Young Award and led the Royals to a World Series title over the Cardinals. During the regular season Bret won 20 games and led the American League in WHIP. Throughout his career, Bret was a remarkable strike thrower who netted his share of strikeouts. At his best against the Redbirds in the Fall Classic, Bret won two games, including the deciding Game VII, on a 0.50 ERA.
After a down year in 1986, Bret rebounded to win 18 games for the Royals in ’87. He finished second in the league in shutouts and made the first of three All-Star games. For proof that All-Star nominations aren’t a judge of talent, Bret didn’t make the All-Star team the two years he won the Cy Young Award. Although he won a World Series in ’85, Saberhagen’s best year was clearly 1989. That season, his second Cy Young campaign, Bret led the junior circuit in wins, winning percentage, ERA, complete games, innings pitched and WHIP. Sabes logged 262 innings and only coughed up 209 hits with a miniscule walk total of 43.
Then the wheels came off the bus. After three straight seasons of 255 innings or more, the injuries began to take their toll on Bret’s arm. In 1990 he was limited to 135 innings to injury. He came back in 1991 to post a fine .619 winning percentage for the Royals but the Kansas City management feared they had got all the gold out of Bret’s wing and dealt him with Bill Pecota to the Mets for Gregg Jefferies, Kevin McReynolds and Keith Miller. The trade didn’t work for either party as the injury bug bit Bret again in 1992.
Although he spent some time on the disabled list with the Mets again in 1993, Bret still managed to log 139 innings. In the Big Apple, Bret honed his accuracy to perfection. He issued just 17 walks in ’93 and he set a still-standing record in 1994 when he posted an unheard of 11-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 1995 Bret was traded to the Rockies for some minor leaguers and when he was rocked in Colorado and then handled in much the same fashion when he joined the Red Sox in 1997, his career looked over.
But Sabes proved his naysayers wrong. He bounced back in 1998 to post a 15-8 record for the BoSox while leading Boston to a Division Series matchup with the Indians. The Red Sox fell to Cleveland but Bret would get another try at October glory in 1999. During the regular season Bret enjoyed his last good season when he went 10-6 on a 2.95 ERA. Sabes made 22 starts and only issued eleven walks all season. Boston got their revenge on Cleveland in the ’99 Division Series but hit a brick wall in the form the New York Yankees in the ALCS. Although Bret had a 1.50 ERA in his lone start against the Bronx Bombers, he was tabbed with the loss. He was sidelined all of 2000 with an injury and made three final starts for Boston in 2001.
W 167/L 117/PCT .588/ERA 3.34/G 399/CG 76/SHO 16/IP 2,563/H 2,452/BB 471/SO 1,715