Bret Saberhagen stands in the Red Sox clubhouse with his foot on a couch, answering questions. He stays until every one is answered, until every opportunity for a joke or a wisecrack is taken.
What a pleasure it must be for Saberhagen, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, to talk about pitching again. He has spent the better part of three years trying to bring his shoulder back to life.
"I wasn't afraid," said Saberhagen, who has won his first four starts in an inspiring comeback from career-threatening shoulder injuries. "I was ready to accept that if things didn't work out, I'd go on with the rest of my life."
With a strong six-inning outing against the Indians on Saturday, Saberhagen continued to show flashes of his old dominance. He has a 1.96 ERA, a fastball in the low 90s and the pluck and fluidity that some feared he would never recapture.
"I was hoping I'd get back," Saberhagen said. "I didn't want to come back and be an average pitcher. I wanted to get back throwing the way I was before the surgery."
Saberhagen, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 1985 and '89, had his right shoulder reconstructed after the 1995 season. He didn't throw a pitch in 1996 for Colorado and made just six starts last season for the Red Sox.
If it was painful to watch Saberhagen hang around with nothing to do last year, just imagine how it felt to him.
"Pitch in, pitch out, I'm not thinking, "Oh, I hope it doesn't blow out,' " Saberhagen said.
For a clue as to why Saberhagen, 34, was willing to endure all that work, the fifth inning of Boston's 3-2 victory Saturday is a perfect example.
With runners on first and second and two outs, Saberhagen rocked into that easy, textbook motion and whizzed a cut fastball over the inside corner to freeze and strike out Kenny Lofton. He used the same pitch to tie up Jim Thome, resulting in weak popups in the second and fourth.
"I can only imagine what his stuff used to be," Thome said.
_ TIMES WIRES