Editor’s note: Saberhagen threw a three-pitch fourth inning during this win. It was the second time in less than a month he had achieved that feat.
The numbers indicate that Bret Saberhagen wasn’t quite good enough to make this year’s American League All-Star team. But after last night, maybe that isn’t the case any longer.
The crowd of 24,923 at Fenway Park could vouch for him after last night’s 6-1 Red Sox victory over the Montreal Expos.
The win was more about the power pitching of Saberhagen than the ineptness of the Expos, who lost to the Red Sox for a second straight night. Saberhagen (10-5) allowed just three hits in seven innings, striking out five and walking none. The victory ties him with Pedro Martinez for the club high.
Saberhagen’s fastball was lively and he threw 27 changeups, 20 for strikes. Mix in an occasional curveball and his stuff was as good as you’ll see in next Tuesday’s All-Star Game. Saberhagen hadn’t won 10 or more games since 1994, when he went 14-4 with the Mets.
``If somebody asked me if I’d have 10 wins by the All-Star break,’’ said Saberhagen, ``I would have shook my head and told them, `I can only hope so.’ It’s been a struggle at times. I’ve been one way or another and there hasn’t been much in between. But it was good tonight after the first inning, so I’m very happy.’’
Since the Expos went down 1-2-3 to open the game, not many people knew of Saberhagen’s concerns. He came out throwing 78 mile-per-hour fastballs and was concerned that something was wrong.
But he got away with it. In the second inning, he kicked it into second gear. At the end of his stint, coach Bill Moloney was clocking Saberhagen at 90-plus m.p.h. Because of his history of shoulder problems, Saberhagen is on a pitch count. He had thrown 93 through seven innings and that was enough.
``The first inning, I was very cranky on the top of my shoulder,’’ said Saberhagen. ``Moloney had me throwing changeups on the charts we keep. But after that first inning, I stayed within myself and hit some spots. I felt a little bit better and my velocity went up to 92 miles an hour, I guess. I mixed pitches well and dropped down on a couple. It was fun out there doing a few different things. [Pitching coach] Joe Kerrigan had a good scouting report, and I stuck to it.’’
Saberhagen retired 15 of the first 16 batters, allowing only a fourth-inning single to F.P. Santangelo. In the sixth, he gave up a home run to Shane Andrews, and in the seventh, Vladimir Guerrero singled. That was it for Montreal as Saberhagen’s ERA dipped from 5.10 to 4.78.
``He’s had a great first half,’’ said Sox manager Jimy Williams. ``He’s one of the key reasons we’ve won a lot of games. He competes with a great work ethic and heart.’’
It was only the second time Saberhagen had gone seven innings in his 16 starts. He was picked up in the last two innings by newcomer Dario Veras, who was recalled yesterday from Pawtucket when Rich Garces went on the 15-day disabled list.
``He was really good tonight,’’ said Kerrigan, who pointed out that Saberhagen threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of his 23 batters. ``He had a little rust in the first inning. But after that he was fine.’’
Saberhagen’s teammates gave him plenty of support, pounding out 12 hits, three by Reggie Jefferson. Nomar Garciaparra had two hits in extending his hitting streak to 22 games, John Valentin had a pair of doubles, and Mike Benjamin drove in a pair of runs in the fifth.
All told, it was a nice night for Saberhagen and his team.
``We’ve had three guys selected for the All-Star team. That’s a first for any team that I’ve played on,’’ said Saberhagen. ``The thing that made it more special for me is Flash [Tom Gordon]. We’ve gone through a lot together. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. I was more excited for him than I would if I had made it. He’s done a great job and it’s good to see him going to his first All-Star game.’’
With a week off until his next start, Saberhagen is still not quite satisfied as he prepares to go for his 11th win in Baltimore.
``I’d still like to get deeper in the game,’’ said Saberhagen. ``I’m still not adjusted to just throwing seven innings. It still doesn’t set well with me. I’d like to go eight or nine innings. That’s my goal for the second half . . . a complete game. Hopefully the shoulder will keep getting stronger.’’