The baseball team from Kansas City that tormented the Baltimore Orioles for 3 1/2 hours yesterday, then beat them 6-5, should not be called the Royals.
They're really the Kansas City Clones. These blueclads hit alike, field alike, run alike and pitch alike. They even think alike. From the time they take mass calisthenics together in the outfield before the game, who can tell one Clone from another?
The Kansas Citians have captured 10 of their last 11 games and have won at a .728 clip since last June.
"Seem like every game is just like this, offered a grinning Hal McRae, whose two-run sixth-linning double broke a 3-3 tie and whose solo homer in the eighth provided the wining run.
"The other team is always in the game. We give 'em a chance to beat us most every day. But we almost always seem to pull out the close ones.
McRae laughed "and for us, they're all close."
The chaotic, 200-minute extravaganza - with 37 players, 39 base runners, 10 pitchers, 14 walks, two hit batters and one ejection - was a perfect example of a game in which the Clones' attention to the unseen details proved conclusive.
"A game like that is so confused it becomes like a blue," said Oriole Second baseman Billy Smith. "It's hard to remember why you won or lost."
The Clones like it that way. Sooner or later, one of their interchangeable parts will getcha.
"We all hit just alike," said cleanup man Al Cowens. "It's like nine versions of the same guy in slightly different shapes and sizes."
The Orioles, and other teams, find the disciplined Royals slightly comic.
"When they're batting, you can almost hear their hitting coach, Charlie Lau, telling theM, 'Crouch down lower. Hold the bat flat. Keep your weight back. Guess a Pitch,' "the Bird's Ken Singleton remarked.
"I don't think there's ever been a team before where all nine guys in the lineup had basically the same stance, the same stroke, the same tendencies and weaknesses.
"They have one other thing in common. They can all hit like hell."
When the Clones take their mass warmup calisthenics during batting practice, the Orioles ride them unmercifully. Twenty-five Clones are doing jumping jacks, so Baltimore Coach Ellie Hendricks hits fungoes at them from 350 feet away.
Twenty-five Clones all push against the outfield wall to strengthen their backs.
"Leave it there," the Orioles scream in unison. "The darn wall is far enough away already. Leave it there."
But the laughing stops in games like this one. The Clones' 13 hits today were typical - a slashing double for each of the torrid trio of McRae, George Brett and Cowens, plus line singles punched to all fields.
"They all stand away from the plate, then charge into the pitch." said Ray Miller, Baltimore pitching coach. "If you work them inside, which seems illogical as far from the plate as they stand, you can jam them.
"But if you pitch them four inches inside, they fall down and cry and moan like you're throwing it behind their heads. That's why they always get in fights with teams like Texas who challenge them inside."
The Royals play a game called cross-'em-up. After looking for pitches on the outside half of the plate to drive to the opposite field for doubles, they suddenly look for those inside pitches and swing for the fences.
"They drive you crazy," says the O's Mike Flanagan. "You know McRae's weakness is the fists, then suddenly he'll just look for that one pitch."
"You'll jam him perfectly, but because he's stepping toward left to pull, rather than into the pitch, it's right down the pike. That's how he homered off me on Saturday and he did it again today. It's a constant guessing game, and they're the best at it."
Meanwhile, the Orioles who dropped into an American League East last-place tie with Toronto, opened the door to four K.C. runs. A Doug DeCinces error led to two unearned tallies, and Smith failed to field a one-hop smash directly at him that would have ended an inning. McRae hit the next pitch for his two-run double.
Cal Ripken, o's third-base coach, also cost his team one run and perhaps two with his chronically cautious and indecisive misdrection of traffic.
Despite all this, the Clones had to hold their breath three times today to win. Mark Belanger had a potential two-run double go inches foul.Eddie Murray, who subsequently singled the final two runs in missed what would have been a game-winning grand slam by a yard when his rocket soared past the left-field fould pole in the eighth. THe next batter, Lee May, missed a three-run homer on an almost identical drive that curved barely foul into the same seats.
"All our hearts jumped about a foot," McRae granted. "If we could, we'd love to crush people. But we can't seem to win 'em any other way."
Only the Kansas City Clones can make .728 baseball look hard.