NEW YORK -- For Bret Saberhagen, a New York Mets uniform, a big contract and the esteem of his teammates could not accomplish what his fastball and control did Thursday night.
"The bottom line is, it's nice to be part of the team now," he said after as decisive a no-decision as anyone is likely to achieve.
He left the Shea Stadium mound to a standing ovation after nine shutout innings that he considered the symbolic beginning to his Mets career. He was on the bench in the 13th inning, when the Mets secured their 1-0 triumph over the St. Louis Cardinals. He believed it was the least he could do, given that he thought he hadn't come close to meeting them halfway before.
"I was extremely nervous going out there, basically because I hadn't done anything. I hadn't helped the team out," he said, referring to his 0-2 record and 13.15 ERA through three previous starts. "Enough was enough. I wanted to contribute to a win."
The key perhaps is not wanting it too much. In talking with pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre and watching tapes, Saberhagen realized he had been rushing his motion. That, in turn, had caused his pitches to rise and affected the control that won him two Cy Young Awards. He allowed eight walks in 13 innings before yesterday.
A more deliberate Saberhagen allowed only five hits -- one a pop-up that landed between fielders -- and no walks. Only twice did a runner get to third base and only one other runner got to second, on all three occasions with two outs. He struck out seven and was unfazed by a hard stare from part-time pro football player Brian Jordan after one of them.
"I felt like saying, 'What are you staring at? I just threw you three pitches and you missed all of them,' " Saberhagen said of the former Milford Mill star.
He was not familiar with Jordan, the Cardinals or even the Mets before this season, having always pitched in the American League. He brought a considerable reputation and other mementos -- a lucky coonskin cap "borrowed" from George Brett, which Saberhagen wore before Thursday's game, and composure.
His performance was the type to draw stares. It was vintage Saberhagen, his best outing since Aug. 26, when he threw a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox. Said manager Jeff Torborg, the manager of the White Sox at the time: "That's the guy I remember from the other league."