The favorite civic project of Kansas City owner Ewing Kauffman is cardiopulmonary resuscitation, which often saves the lives of heart attack victims. Two CPR lifesavers threw out the ceremonial first balls before this second game of the American League playoffs here tonight.

Little did anyone here know that it would be the dratted New York Yankees who would need resuscitation after a heart-stopping play that saved a 3-2 victory for the Royals. The Yankees now trail two games to none and will return to Yankee Stadium for Friday's third game in dire need of baseball CPR.

When this game is remembered, it will not be celebrated for the way Dennis Leonard outdueled Rudy May, nor even for the manner in which reliever Dan Quisenberry ended the game by getting Graig Nettles to ground into a double play with Yankees on first and second. It will quickly be forgotten that the Royals scored three runs in the third on Willie Wilson's two-run triple and U.L. Washington's RBI double. Even a heroic-comic inside-the-park homer by Nettles and a Willie Randolph RBI double off the glove of catcher-turned-right-fielder Duke Wathan in the fifth will soon become grist only for trivia buffs.

This was not a game marked by the runs that did score but by the one marvelous run which did not score.

Of all the classic plays in post-season history, there has seldom, if ever, been a better and more exciting 10-second masterpiece of full-field baseball than the gem on which the Royals cut down Randolph at the plate in the eighth inning tonight. Beside it, Willie Mays' catch in the '54 Series was simplicity itself. This was baseball at its richest with the eyes darting a dozen times on one play, measuring time and distance with a whole season's worth of hope teetering in the balance.

Randolph was on first with two outs, Bob Watson at bat, and a badly tiring Leonard on the mound. Watson ripped a liner into the left field corner that was fair by 10 yards. From the crack of the bat, it was obvious that the Yankee catalyst, their best base runner and their young team leader the cocky, swift Randolph would try to score to tie the game. The Royals would need a pure, miraculous dispensation of a play to stop him a sequence of crisp, interlocking timing, fundamental drilling, plus tons of luck, to bar Randolph from home plate.

The Royals, so unlucky for so long against the Yanks, were triply blessed.

First, Randolph was, according to third base coach Mike Ferraro, given the "must steal" sign on the play. But Randolph said, "I never saw it." So, he got a hesitant break on the ball after taking a one-step false start toward second.

Next, Watson's blast took a perfect carom off the base of the wall and the ball came to Wilson like a bullet. "It came so quick it almost handcuffed me," Wilson said. Had the ricochet been a normally soft one off the fence padding, Randolph would surely have scored, probably standing.

At that instant, when the Royals got that perfect catch-in-the-breath bounce, every true baseball fan in the 42,633 here knew in his heart than an unforgettable moment was possible. Perhaps no other sport offers such a marvelous tableau. Randolph, turning the bases, trying to cut milliseconds as he dug into each bag and came out faster, like a swimmer doing tumble turns. Wilson, perhaps the best left-fielder the Lord ever made, fleeing to the perfect point to retrieve the ball, then heaving a throw worthy of a right-fielder toward his cutoff men, who were lining up to stop Randolph at the pass.

Wilson's throw sailed over the head of the normal relay man -- Washington -- who may have wanted to swallow his toothpick. Ten years ago, that would have killed the play. But in '73, Bobby Winkles brought a new wrinkle to the age-old cutoff play when he came to the majors from Arizona State. He stationed the third baseman 50 feet beyond the shortstop as a "trailer."

And tonight, George Brett, who went hitless, was the trailer. "Willie threw it as hard as he could, trying to peg a strike to U.L.," Brett said. "Instead, he threw a strike to me. I've trailed a thousand of those plays and it's the first time it's ever come to me.

"I heard the roar of the crowd and I knew he was going home. With my (erratic) arm, I could just as easily have missed the plate by 40 feet."

But he didn't. Brett's throw was perfect. The play at the plate was clear and violent. Randolph would be out by a narrow yard. His only chance was to blast catcher Darrell Porter. But the Royal catcher, who has been so brave this year, repeating a hundred times the story of how he has rehabilitated himself from drug and alcohol addiction, was rooted over the plate like a bronze statue of a catcher. He smashed Randolph's shoulder with the tag as the pair spun in a cartwheel of arms, legs and dust that came to rest over the plate. Umpire Joe Brinkman peered into the chaos of limbs, then threw up his thumb.

The Royals danced off, Brett pumping his fist, Porter spiking the ball and the dugout exploding to greet the valients -- Wilson, Brett and Porter, three all-stars who had created one of baseball's most incredible plays.

"I saw some looks of disbelief in the Yankees' eyes as we ran off," said Brett. "That was a helluva lot more exciting than any hit I ever got."

"That was absolutely the best damn relay I've ever seen in 32 years," Royal Manager Jim Frey said.

To the considerable discredit of the Yankees, their owner George Steinbrenner, who did his imitation of Bonzo Goes To The Playoffs all day, made a poor-sport clown of himself after the game. It was a bad day for George. He called a desperation team meeting with manager and coaches this morning to which he invited a crony reporter who was so embarrassed that he left. Yankees, hearing of the typical confab, didn't know whether to laugh or curse. At game's end, Steinbrenner was captured by national TV cameras distinctly saying, "Oh, bleep."

And after this tremendous game, Steinbrenner said, "My players didn't lose this game. The third base coach (Ferraro) did. The S.O.B. has been screwing up all year. And with our big man (Reggie Jackson) coming up next. We're going to go home and win three straight. I guarantee it."

"Ferraro did the right thing," said Dick Howser, the Yankee manager. "I wouldn't have gotten to hit anyway," said Jackson. "They'd have walked me intentionally. But George wouldn't know that."

The Royals had one final harrowing chance to crack, to erase the memory of their glory game and to turn this playoff back the Yankee way. Jackson singled to start the ninth to kayo Leonard. Quisenberry popped up Oscar Gamble, but Rick Cerone sighed. Then Nettles hit a perfect double play ball to golden glove Frank White.

"I don't know what a heart murmur feels like," said Quisenberry, "but I think I had one."