The Kansas City Royals walked off their artificial surface tonight and headed toward artificial respiration.
The California Angels defeated the Royals, 3-2, before 32,278 at Royals Stadium this evening, expanding their lead to 4 1/2 games in the American League West and dropping their magic number to two.
While Kansas City Manager Dick Howser was saying things like "We're still breathing. We're still alive," he realized that any combination of Angel victories and/or Royal losses equaling two would mean the 1982 AL West pennant will fly in the California sun.
Howser also realized that if the Angels win one of the two games remaining in this series, that will settle things. "I don't like the math," he said.
But Howser could not have realized that, at the very moment he was speaking in such somber terms, in the visiting locker room, Manager Gene Mauch was on the phone with Angels owner Gene Autry, who was calling from California.
After a record 22 seasons of managing without ever finishing first, Mauch is a manager of penance, not pennants. But tonight, with microphones crowding his conversation, Mauch smiled and smiled. He told Autry, "Don't worry about anything."
Worries are fading fast for the Angels, who have just five games remaining (the Royals have six). Tonight, Don Baylor ended a 2-2 tie with a run-scoring single to right-center field with one out in the seventh off Vida Blue (13-12). It was Baylor's league-leading 21st game winner.
The game-winning single ultimately made it insignificant that reliever Dan Quisenberry came on and struck out pinch-hitter Reggie Jackson with two outs and the bases loaded in that seventh inning.
As Baylor put it, "Right now, this team is in a situation where we know what will happen."
Tommy John (14-12) pitched eight Tommy John-like innings tonight, sending the Royals bats into the ground by way of the ground out. When John walked pinch-hitter Ron Johnson to lead off the Royal ninth, Mauch brought in reliever Luis Sanchez.
Sanchez created abrupt silence with a strikeout of John Wathan and a game-ending, double-play grounder by Cesar Geronimo.
John, who came to California from the Yankees this summer, is now 4-2 as an Angel and said, "There is a lot of pressure on me. I came here known as 'The Guy Who Is Going To Make Us Win.' Sometimes it makes me overthrow."
Mauch said when he walked out to replace John in the ninth, John smiled. "He told me to bring in Gossage," said Mauch.
When the Royals took a 2-0 lead into the fifth, things didn't look so certain for California. U.L. Washington hit a solo home run (No. 10) in the first and Willie Aikens hit a run-scoring single in the fourth for the Royals.
Then in the Angel fifth, Juan Beniquez opened with a double and scored when third baseman George Brett backhanded Tim Foli's grounder and bounced the throw off Aikens' glove. Two hitters later, Foli scored on Brian Downing's single and it was tied.
Several base-running blunders dearly cost the Royals. The most crucial was by pinch-runner Dennis Werth, who tried to advance to third on a one-out seventh inning grounder hit directly at shortstop Foli. Werth represented the tying run and was thrown out easily, thereby ending the rally.
"We just couldn't do anything right tonight," said Brett.
Ten days ago, the Angels trailed the Royals by one game. The Royals have now lost 10 of 11, the Angels have won eight of 10.
After tonight, the Royals' egos may be as bruised as their bodies. Centerfielder Amos Otis pulled a groin muscle last week and is probably out for the year; second baseman Frank White has a sprained right foot and bruised left ankle and was limited to pinch-hitting tonight; Aikens (pulled muscles in rib cage) and designated hitter Hal McRae (bruised shin) played in pain tonight.
"We're playing with a short stick," said Howser.
Quisenberry says of the injuries, "It has gotten so bad that we started looking at the light towers for snipers."
Now, the gun is pointed directly at the heart of the Kansas City Royals. No snipers. Just the Angels.
"It was a must win for us tonight," said Kansas City right fielder Jerry Martin. "But I guess stranger comebacks have happened."