If the Kansas City Royals find a way to beat the Oakland A's, there is no justice.
The Royals, with a ridiculous 50-53 season record, are the biggest frauds ever to get into postseason baseball play. They disgraced themselves in a lazy, manager-stabbing first half in which they finished 12 games behind, then only qualified in the second season because their division was so weak that they couldn't avoid it.
The A's, on the other hand, were the only one of baseball's four phony first-half winners -- the designated champions -- who had enough pride and professionalism to play hard and post a creditable second-half record.
Of course, what the A's really had was Manager Billy Martin, who would personally tenderize and fry any player who dogged it on him.
In such a flukish season, it would certainly be apt -- that is to say, preposterous -- if the sub-.500 Royals embarrassed the sport by imposing themselves on the proceedings until the very end. After all, if the team with the best record in all of baseball can be excluded from the playoffs -- Cincinnati (.611) -- then why can't the team with the worst percentage of any postseason club in history go on to be world champion?
In truth, the Royals-versus-A's playoff is much closer than justice ought to allow.
In a short five-game series -- especially one like this that offers a travel day -- a premium is placed on having three good starting pitchers and one excellent reliever. A team with four or five quality starters can't really show its superior depth to proper advantage.
Guess what? The Royals and A's exactly fit this description.
The Royals have only three trusted starters, but that's all they may need. First- and fourth-game starter Dennis Leonard has had a 7-4 second-half record with a 2.26 ERA; he also has shut out Oakland twice in the last month.
"He won't do it in the playoffs," says psyche master Martin.
"Very interesting," is the only rebuttal by Leonard, the three-time 20-game winner whose extensive October experience has all been of two kinds -- excellent or absolutely horrible.
In addition, the Royals will follow Leonard with rookie Mike Jones (6-3, 3.21 in second half) and Larry Gura (7-3, 1.25 second half). Martin should be in heaven baiting a rookie and Gura, the man he has called "Mr. No Guts."
Biggest Royal recovery in the second half was reliever Dan Quisenberry with an 0.84 ERA in his last 19 games. He alone gives K.C. a much better bullpen.
By depressing contrast, the A's rotation of Mike Norris (4.25 second-half ERA), Steve McCatty (14-7), Rick Langford (12-10) and Matt Keough has not been as sharp in September as it was in the early season. In fact, since their 17-1 April start, the A's are merely a 47-44 team.
As though this weren't enough cause for Oakland worry, the Royals are in perfect health and have three currently hot bats in the heart of their lineup -- George Brett, Willie Aikens and Hal McRae. While the Royals have warmed, the A's Tony Armas has managed only one homer in his last 27 games.
As though some fair-play divinity were looking over the AL West, the Royals have encountered a huge hurdle in the past three days. On Saturday morning, the Royals needed only one win in the last two games -- head to head with Oakland -- to win the second-half title and thus get to play the first two games at home.
However, to their chagrin, the Royals lost to the A's both Saturday and Sunday. What that necessitated was spectacularly bizarre.
While the A's were able to lay over in Kansas City and rest a day before the Tuesday opener, the Royals were suddenly faced with the Bowie-ball reality that they had to go to Cleveland yesterday to play to determine if they were first or second in the second season.
If the Royals had had their druthers, they'd have forfeited to the Indians. The miniscule advantage of now being able to have playoff game No. 2 at home, instead of in Oakland, was hardly worth the aggravation of a round trip to Cleveland, plus the discombobulation of the pitching staff.
If the Royals begin their series tired, bullpen-thin and generally flat, the credit should go to the creators of the ignominious second season. Nonetheless, such an injustice would be an excellent example of how, every once in a while, two wrongs can make a right.