George Brett nudged Reggie Jackson off center stage in the American League playoffs yesterday - with home runs his first three times at bat - but the Yankees struck the decisive blews.

Just when everyone was preparing for Jackson to outdo even his own Ruthian performance of late, Thurman Munson hit a two-run homer in the eighth that lifted the Yanks to a 6-5 victory over Kansas City.

And the chance to win the series tonight with the Reggie of pitchers, Ron Guidry.

As Brett said after the Royals missed a splendid chance for victory: "Guidry ain't God."

Brett also said: "He's mostly gotten me out."

The game had all manner of pivotal plays and pivotal players. The all-goat team was an impressive one - and included two umpires. The Royals are not sure whether Fred Patek's arm or Amos Otis's legs or Doug Bird's mind was more harmful.

The one Royal certainty is that yesterday Kansas City had the Yanks at their most vulnerable, without Willie Randolph at second, without Mickey Rivers in center most of the game and with Catfish Hunter less than heroic on the mound - and botched it.

Still, Munson gets leadoff treatment here. His body looks like something out of an auto graveyard and he has been a mild embrassment behind the plate and at bat this series. With Roy White on first, the Yankee crowd was pleading for Munson simply to avoid the one thing that could keep the on-deck hitter, Jackson, from another at-bat.

What was dancing through Munson's mind as reliever Bird was taking his warmups?

Double play.

"That's what he said," Jackson volunteered. "We were joking and he said, 'Bet I hit a double play.' I said, 'Bet you don't.'

Munson had not hit a homer since Aug. 9. But Bird threw the spiciest 2-0 pitch one could imagine - and Munson sent it about 420 feet into the Yankee bullpen beyond the left-center field fence.

"The story of my year," said Bird, alluding to a season with such unsavory numbers as a 5.29 earned-run average. "I knew he hit it good. I didn't even bother to watch."

There was one more major confrontation, Goose Gossage vs. Brett in the ninth. Goose had laid an omelet by allowing the Royals to gain the lead with two runs in the top of the eighth and Brett had taken Reggie pills his first three at-bats.

Brett led off the game with an upper-deck homer and then weakened some. The second blast was a mere 420 feet to right-center and the third was just three rows beyond the right-field fence.

His fourth time up, Brett sent a one-two pitch deep to right-center but within Paul Blair's reach. In his fifth at-bat, Gossage got him one-one gave a huge sigh of relief when Brett's high fly settled into reserve Gary Thomasson's glove.

"It's something I'll never forget," Brett said, "but I'd honestly rather have the win."

Patek and Otis will not forget their special place in playoff lore. And Yankee fans will not allow right field umpire Rich Garcia and home plate umpire Ron Luciano to forget seemingly wrong calls that Munson erased with his bat.

With the score tied, 2-2, in the fourth and Jackson on first, Lou Piniella smacked a single to left and went halfway a second before realizing Reggie was still there. Patek, the cutoff Man, had Piniella trapped, but gunned the ball into the stands.

"Threw it away good, didn't I?" he said.

Yep. Jackson was waved home on the play and Piniella allowed to reach third. It was not the inning's final thrill. Graig Nettles lofted a medium-range fly to left and Piniella lumbered toward home after the catch.

Clint Hurdle's throw was wide of the plate and the television eye, or at least one angle of the replay, saw Piniella's toe touch home before Darrell Porter's tag hit Piniella. Luciano's eye saw otherwise, and Piniella's squatting tantrum failed to reverse the decision.

Earlier, Garcia judged that Mickey Rivers trapped a Porter liner that the television replay saw settle into his glove on the fly. Otis also saw it - unfortunately for the Royals.

With two out, Otis should have been nearing third at full speed instead of being planted, eyes on Rivers, 20 feet short of second. When Rivers held the ball and argued with Garcia, Otis dashed to third and Porter took second with a double.

Otis could have scored.

Pete LaCock walked to load the bases, but Hurdle struck out to end the inning. Hurdle was only reserve all-goat, however, singling in the eighth after leaving five Royals stranded his previous three at-bats.

For Brett to out-Reggie Reggie, he had to be extraordinary. Jackson hardly took the day off. He homered to right his first time up and drove in two more runs with a single to left and a sacrifice fly that Otis had to leap to catch at the center-field wall.

Jackson's fifth career homer tied Sal Bando's playoff record. His 15 runs batted in moved him past Tony Perez on the all-time playoff list.

Bob Robertson of the Pittsburgh Pirates was the first to hit three home runs in one playoff, in 1971.

The Royals were as aggressive yesterday as they were timid during game one. Hindsight suggests they were too bold at times. Patek was thrown out stealing to end the fourth inning and Brett hit a leadoff homer in the fifth.

"I'm sure the (Yankee Manager Bob Lemon) would not have walked Brett intentionally that late in the game," Royal Manager Whitey Herzog said. "Freddie runs on his own and after Brett had a strike I can see him going."

LaCock hit a leadoff triple in the sixth, but stayed there as Hunter got Hurdle and Frank White on strike-outs and Al Cowens on a grounder to second.

Guidry's performance has been the pitching fascination of the season. That he was able to pitch only once this playoff seemed a telling advantage for the Royals. They they lost game one in Kansas City and a nice chance to win yesterday.

"I don't feel too damn good," Herzog said about tonight's game. "I guess you'd have to say they have us where they want us."