Kansas City pitcher Bret Saberhagen may be getting all the rave reviews, but teammate Charlie Leibrandt's performance this year is clearly deserving of a two-thumbs-up rating.
Nobody's predicting that Leibrandt will give Saberhagen (12-1) a run in the Cy Young Award race, but the 30-year-old left-hander quietly has been putting up numbers that rival those of the Royals' highly publicized right-hander.
Leibrandt, who went eight innings Saturday night at Anaheim Stadium to earn the victory in the Royals' 8-4 win over the Angels, improved his record to 8-4 this season.
It could be almost as good as Saberhagen's, though. Leibrandt has pitched into the seventh inning in 13 of his 15 starts and has only twice allowed more than two earned runs. His 2.33 earned-run average is second in the American League to you-know-who (2.25).
If he had pitched the ninth inning and not allowed an earned run, Leibrandt would have taken over the league ERA lead.
"I'd rather take over the lead in wins," Leibrandt said, smiling. "I've pitched well and ended up getting a no-decision to show for it a couple of times, but Sabes has been a lot better pitcher in the eighth and ninth innings than I have.
"You can't take anything away from Sabes. He's been dominant."
Still, Leibrandt's statistics rival Saberhagen's in almost every category but wins and complete games, in which Saberhagen holds an 8-3 advantage. They've both pitched 108 innings. Saberhagen has allowed 14 fewer hits (84-96), one less earned run (27-28), five less walks (22-27) and both pitchers have struck out 70.
"Charlie will get you into the seventh inning every time he goes out to the mound," Royal Manager Billy Gardner said. "He's pitched really well all year and we lost a couple of games he could very easily have won. He's so consistent. He's always around the plate and tonight was no exception."
Indeed, Saturday's outing was vintage Leibrandt. He struck out seven, walked just one and yielded only three hits in the first six innings. The Angels got two hits in the seventh and three hits and a run in the eighth.
"I was very satisfied with the way I pitched for the first six innings," he said, "but I slowed down and started to struggle a little after that. I just haven't been able to close them out the way Bret has."
Of course, no one else has, either. But Saberhagen thinks Leibrandt has a good chance to take the ERA title this season.
"Chaz is pitching really great . . . really great," Saberhagen said. "He'll catch me. You'll see."
That probably wouldn't be enough to beat out Saberhagen in the Cy Young voting, and don't look for Leibrandt to make the cover of Time, either. But the Royals will never downplay the importance of the less-heralded No. 2 guy in their potent 1-2 pitching punch.