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Gorge Bret

I refuse to get caught up in the excitement surrounding all the Johan Santana rumors.

You can thank Bret Saberhagen for that.

For the kids out there who are too young to remember, Saberhagen was Johan Santana, except he was righthanded and injury-prone, as opposed to lefty and injury free. Saberhagen was a two-time Cy Young Award winner, with great control, who won a World Series with the Royals in 1985 (the year before the Mets) and was only 27 on December 11, 1991 when Kansas City traded him to the Mets, along with Bill Pecota, for Gregg Jefferies, Kevin McReynolds, and Keith Miller. On the surface, it looked like a great deal.

In fairness, McReynolds and Miller amounted to essentially nothing, and Jefferies, based on his relationship with, well, everybody, was basically unkeepable, so it's not like the Mets got hosed in this deal. It's just that the potential was there to get a lot more from what they got (Saberhagen not Pecota) than they actually did.

Saberhagen's Mets career got off to a rocky start in 1992, with three straight really bad efforts, but whatever the issues were, he fixed them fast. In his next four outings, he went 2-0 with an 0.53 ERA, with 31 strikeouts and 19 hits allowed in 34 innings. Some might call that Santana-esque.

The last of those games was against the Dodgers on May 9, and that was really the last time you could feel really good about the Mets chances, so long as Bret Saberhagen was on the team.

Working against former Met Bob Ojeda, Saberhagen allowed two runs (one earned) in eight innings, his output damaged by Mitch Webster's game-tying home run with two outs in the eighth.

The score was even in the last of the ninth, with familiar face Roger McDowell on the mound for the Mets. Bill Pecota started the frame with a single and advanced to second on Todd Hundley's sacrifice. Second baseman Willie Randolph (!) failed to help the cause, working a 3-0 count before striking out, but Dick Schofield reached on an infield hit, putting runners on the corners for Dave Magadan. McDowell fell behind in the count, 2-0, then did something he hadn't done in his 95 previous at bats that season- hit a home run. It was a walk-off home run that gave the Mets a 5-2 victory.

The Mets were 18-13 with that victory and won again the next day to complete a sweep of the Dodgers. The Jeff Torborg era was looking pretty good.

Saberhagen's next start was on May 15 against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. The Mets won, but their starter lasted just five innings, leaving with tendinitis in his index finger. New York was 21-15 that day. Saberhagen's next start was on July 21st, at which point the team was 46-48.

That injury was the first of multiple maladies that Saberhagen would endure as a Mets member over that season and the next one. He made 36 starts in those two seasons, slightly more than half of the number he should have made, and the Mets drifted into a malaise of mediocrity. Yes, Saberhagen went 14-4 in 1994, but that proved to be pretty useless, considering how that was the strike season.

The Mets made him someone else's problem at the next season's trade deadline, shipping him to the Rockies, getting little in return (Juan Acevedo and Arnold Gooch). Not surprisingly, Saberhagen was hurt for all of 1996 and almost all of 1997. Perseverance got him back to the majors and he was pretty good for the Red Sox, for 1998 and part of 1999, before getting hurt again. His last major-league appearance was in 2001.

Rooting for Bret Saberhagen was an exercise in frustration, because he was so good when healthy, but good health was so rare. In looking back, I've found that it's been rare that a starting pitcher has been a favorite of mine and that may partly be due to Saberhagen's tale of woe. So while I wouldn't mind seeing the Mets trade for Santana, I can't get too worked up about it at this point. Besides, I have more important things to do, like figuring out how I can become the next radio voice of the team. :)

True Metberhagens know...Bret Saberhagen was the starting pitcher in the Mets-Marlins game of July 28, 1993, in which the Mets won on a walk-off double by Eddie Murray. The significance there is that the win broke Anthony Young's 27-game losing streak.


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