Kansas City Royal pitcher Bret Saberhagen won 20 of his last 22 games this season, and that fast finish culminated Wednesday in his second American League Cy Young Award in four years.
Saberhagen, a right-hander who went 23-6, got 27 of 28 first-place votes and one second-place vote--for 138 points--from a panel of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America. Oakland’s Dave Stewart, the most valuable player of the World Series, got the other first-place vote, 24 seconds and three thirds for 80 points.
Mike Moore of the Athletics was third with 10 points, followed by Bert Blyleven of the Angels with nine and Nolan Ryan of the Texas Rangers with five.
Saberhagen, 25, who also won the award in 1985, led the majors in victories, earned-run average (2.16), winning percentage (.793), complete games (12) and innings pitched (262 1/3). He pitched four shutouts, three three-hitters and two four-hitters.
“He had the curveball of a lifetime this year,” Royal Manager John Wathan told the Associated Press. “He was consistent from opening day. I was not surprised he won by an overwhelming margin. Dave Stewart is a great pitcher, but everybody knows who the most consistent pitcher in the major leagues was this year.”
Saberhagen, of Reseda, was on a cruise to Mexico with his wife, Janeane, Wednesday when the award was announced.
“I can’t imagine pitching much better,” he said by conference call from a boat at Puerto Vallarta. “I don’t think I would have won it without great support. They seemed always to score just enough runs for me.”
Saberhagen’s father, Bob, who lives in an area of southwest Ventura County known as Box Canyon, said: “It just amazes me. Here he is only 25 years old and look at what he’s accomplished.
“Two-time Cy Young Award winner. World Series MVP (in 1985). Comeback player of the year in 1987. Runner-up for comeback player this year, although I wonder what he was coming back from.”
Saberhagen was 14-16 with a 3.80 ERA in 1988.
“Of course I’m proud of him,” Bob Saberhagen said. “I mean, when I stop to think about it, it really moves me. Guys play their whole lives and don’t have these kinds of careers.”
“But the thing about Bret is, I’d be proud of him if he were slinging hamburgers. He’s really a good kid.
“Bret and I were playing golf the other day and he was talking about his life after baseball. I reminded him he could be pitching 20 more years.”
Saberhagen, who will earn $1.4 million next season, will get a $100,000 bonus for winning the award.
The Royals recently picked up the option year (1990) on Saberhagen’s three-year contract, and the Royals and agent Dennis Gilbert are working on a multiyear extension.
The Royals were 29-6 in his starts last season, and he beat every club in the league at least once. He allowed eight runs in his last 80 innings and had a streak of 31 innings without an earned run.
He allowed more than three earned runs just three times in 35 starts and not once in his final 14. In his six losses, the Royals were shut out three times and scored one run twice.
Saberhagen is 92-61 in six seasons with Kansas City. He was 20-6 in 1985, then went on to pitch two complete games as the Royals beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
As a standout at Cleveland High School in Reseda, he pitched a no-hitter in the 1982 City championship game to beat Palisades, 13-0. He missed a perfect game when the second batter reached base on an error.
Saberhagen’s no-hitter was the first in Los Angeles City baseball playoff history.
In his senior year, Saberhagen was 9-0 with an 0.85 ERA. He also batted .362 and played shortstop.
Despite his credentials, Saberhagen was not drafted until the 19th round of the 1982 June free-agent draft.
He spent 1983 in the minor leagues and joined the Royals in 1984. He was a 10-11 was a rookie.
Then came his big year in 1985 in which he was 20-6. And the next year, when he was 7-12 and criticized for cashing in on the 1985 success instead of preparing for the next season.
“I was awful young,” he said from Puerto Vallarta. “I didn’t know much about success. I tried to do too much. Hopefully, next year I’ll be just as steady. I know what it takes to get ready for a season and I’m going to do it. In ’86, I thought I should strike out every batter.”
Saberhagen joins Denny McLain (1968-69), Jim Palmer (1973-75-76) and Roger Clemens (1986-87) as pitchers who have won the AL award more than once.
Saberhagen had the lowest ERA for an AL winner since Palmer had a 2.09 in 1975.
Stewart failed to get the award despite winning 20 games for a third consecutive season. He was 21-9.
Last season, Stewart was 21-12 and was the AL Cy Young Award runner-up to Frank Viola, then of the Minnesota Twins. Stewart was 20-13 in 1987 and lost to Roger Clemens of the Boston Red Sox.
“Dave Stewart put together three great years,” Saberhagen said. “I’m just glad that the writers voted on this particular year.”
AMERICAN LEAGUE CY YOUNG VOTING Voting for the 1989 American League Cy Young Award, with pitchers receiving five points for each first-place vote, three points for second and one point for third.
PITCHER TEAM 1ST 2ND 3RD TOT Saberhagen Kansas City 27 1 -- 138 Stewart Oakland 1 24 3 80 Moore Oakland -- 2 4 10 Blyleven Angels -- -- 9 9 Ryan Texas -- -- 5 5 Ballard Baltimore -- 1 -- 3 Eckersley Oakland -- -- 3 3 Olson Baltimore -- -- 3 3 Russell Texas -- -- 1 1