Almost 23 years later, Saberhagen still recalls last Royals no-hitter
JUL 16, 2014 10:41a ET
Former Royals great Bret Saberhagen was back at Kauffman Stadium last Friday and as he looked out over the field once more from a perch in the Royals dugout, he was reminded of one very special night.
That would be Aug. 26, 1991, when Saberhagen, in his final season with the Royals, tossed the franchise's last no-hitter, a 7-0 blanking of the Chicago White Sox.
"Was that really the last no-hitter?" Saberhagen asked, incredulously. "Me? Was it really?"
Really. And it was a night Saberhagen will never forget.
Yes, there was a World Series championship before that, a World Series Most Valuable Player award, and two Cy Youngs to boot.
But a pitcher never forgets a no-hitter.
"I can remember just about every play," Saberhagen said prior to being honored Friday as part of the Royals' "Legends Night" special promotion. "You have a lot of great memories in baseball, like the World Series and Cy Youngs and MVPs, but when you have something as unique as a no-hitter, it tends to stay with you."
On that particular night in 1991, Saberhagen recalled, he knew he had special stuff, likely no-hit stuff. He had great command of his fastball, and every breaking ball he threw was spot on.
Saberhagen's last out, he said, was likely the toughest. He had to face the dangerous Frank Thomas, who whacked a slider on a one-hopper right at the second baseman.
"It was a breaking ball to Frank, and he hit the ball to Terry Shumpert at second base," Saberhagen recalled almost 23 years later. "Terry got it and fired to first and that was it. Such a cool feeling."
The no-hitter didn't come without some controversy.
With one out in the fifth, Chicago's Dan Pasqua hit a liner toward the left-center-field gap. Royals left fielder Kirk Gibson seemed to be tracking the ball, but then as the ball got near the warning track he appeared to lose it.
Gibson made an awkward stab at catching the ball, and it grazed off his glove as Pasqua reached second base.
Official scorer Del Black, a former Royals beat writer with the Kansas City Star, immediately ruled it a hit. But after watching replays during the same inning, Black eventually reversed his call and ruled it an error.
Later, Black told me, "After the replays, I thought it was catchable. He was there waiting for it. It didn't appear he was straining to catch it."
The no-hitter was intact.
"To this day, I always give Gibby crap," Saberhagen said, laughing. "After they called it an error, Gibby came in (the dugout) and was complaining that it was an error. He was grumpy about it.
"And I told him, 'Hey, if you were to hit a groundball and you were trying to get an infield hit, you would have been busting your butt and running as hard as you can to first to get that hit — unlike what you just did on that flyball.'
"He didn't really go after it all that hard. I thought it was an error. And fortunately, it did turn out to be an error."
Soon after, Saberhgen got very serious about getting the no-hitter.
"The funny thing is that once we got to the seventh inning — and I'd been at that point a few times before in my career (with a no-hitter) and I'd never been able to finish it off — I started to think about getting that darn thing," Saberhagen recalled. "So at that point, I told myself I was going to go at every batter like he was the last batter of the game.
"I mean, I was going to concentrate and focus on every single batter. I really tried to bear down on each guy, and I wasn't trying to think about just getting through the inning or pacing myself or thinking about the guy on deck or whatever. I just told myself to go after each hitter hard — and really focus on each pitch."
The strategy worked. The White Sox never really threatened to get another hit after Pasqua's liner.
Saberhagen walked two and struck out five.
"I don't remember anything crazy happening the whole game, no fantastic defensive plays or anything that was close (to being a hit), other than the ball that dropped off Gibby's glove," Saberhagen said. "It was just one of those nights when everything worked."
As exciting as that night was, Saberhagen said, it wasn't even close to being his top memory.
"The World Series championship, by far, is the most memorable," he said. "It's tough to rank anything after that. The Cy Young is based on achieving a bunch of good outings throughout the year. Definitely, the World Series is at the top, then the Cy Youngs.
"But the thing about no-hitters is you have to be really on your game, but you also have to be a little lucky. There have been really great pitchers throughout history that never have thrown a no-hitter, guys you would just shake your head about and go, 'Wow, he's never thrown a no-hitter?'
"So, you have to have a little luck."
Saberhagen is somewhat amazed that his no-hitter was the last in franchise history.
"They'll get another one soon," he said. "I mean, look at guys like (Yordano) Ventura and (Danny) Duffy. They got great stuff. It'll happen again soon."