Come on, you miserable, marvelous Kansas City Royals. You can do it.

You can be the first truly bad team in history ever to win a pennant.

You're already the worst team that found itself in first place in the middle of September.

The 1973 New York Mets?

Don't make me laugh. Those Mets were mediocre, but with Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack and Tug McGraw pitching they were never bad.

Face it, Royals, you're awful.

And you're wonderful.

You can be the first club that got outscored all year and ended up in the World Series.

You can be the AAA-quality team that won a world title.

Since shortly after the Civil War, lousy teams have been trying to make do. Nobody's ever made do like the Royals.

This is the team that last month phoned Bucky Dent at his Florida baseball school and said, "Bucky, we've had a couple of injuries. Well, actually, about five injuries. How'd you like to come play shortstop for us? Tonight."

Yes, K.C. You're my team. And you ought to be the real America's Team.

Come on, Pat Sheridan, Greg Pryor, Lynn Jones, Darryl Motley, Jorge Orta, Onix Concepcion and Don (On) Slaught.

You've spent your lives struggling to escape the minors, battling to get a sliver of playing time as reserves. Manager Dick Howser called you his "spare parts" this spring. Now you're all starters: the varsity, not the bench; heck, you're the whole engine. And you're in first place in the AL West.

Come on, Mark Gubicza, Charlie Leibrandt and Bret Saberhagen. What a starting rotation you guys make. Keep turning in those dynamic lines in the box score -- like (W, 10-11) 5 1/3 (innings), 11 (hits), 4 (runs), 3 (earned runs), 4 (walks) and 1 (strikeout). You're gonna make America learn how to pronounce your names yet.

Come on, Steve (Bye Bye) Balboni, you cleanup hitter, you. Who cares if you go zero for 23 with 15 whiffs. Keep striking out on those balls in the dirt and sooner or later you'll beat one out after the catcher misses it. That is, if there's a taxi in the on-deck circle.

So what if the team is 12th in the league in runs scored and has a 4.00 ERA. So what if Hal McRae is now just a platoon old-timer and George Brett spends half the year on the disabled list.

So what if last year's leading winner, Paul Splittorff, suddenly walks up one day in July and says, "I retire."

So what if last year's No. 2 winner, Larry Gura, has a 5.11 ERA.

So what if your star leadoff man, Willie Wilson, misses the first 32 games of the season because he's been in prison. So what if you feel you have to trade your slugging first baseman, Willie Aikens, at a discount rate because, well, he's been in jail, too.

So what if your shortstop, U.L. Washington, is disabled so often (three times, so far), that his nickname is changed to D.L. Washington.

So what if you start the season with five rookie pitchers, including two -- Gubicza and Saberhagen (then 21 and 19 years old) who each have had only two full seasons in the minors.

Hey, we're talking about the Kansas City Royals here. They were losers last year (79-83). Every bad break you could imagine lands on their heads and what do they do? Chew it up and spit it out.

Who's the hottest team in the AL? Before last night's loss, the Royals -- 33-19 since July 18 -- had won five in a row to drag their record up to 73-69.

Okay, so that's only the sixth-best record in the league and the 11th-best in baseball. So dish out a little credit where it's due. The Royals are a .400 team playing over .500. Give 'em some luck in the next few weeks and they could be the most miraculous champions ever.

Let's detour to the record book. Only one team in this century has reached postseason play after having a winning percentage lower than .540 -- those '73 Mets (82-79). They have no rival when it comes to lousy winners.

That is, until now.

The Royals are prospering in battle for two reasons. First, as Brett (who's about to return to the lineup) puts it, "This is a 25-man race. We have 25 players racing for the same goal."

About a dozen obscure Royals, like Motley (.288), Sheridan (.287), Slaught (.274), Bud Black (14-11), Gubicza (10-12) and Joe Beckwith (7-3), are performing a level or two better than anybody would have guessed. None is a star, but all are decent.

Second, the Royals have Dan Quisenberry, the best relief pitcher in history. Last year, Quiz became the first man to total 50 victories and saves, and he did it for a losing team. This year, he's right on schedule again with 39 saves and five victories. "Nobody in our division has a weapon like Quiz," says Howser, who should win manager of the century.

Quisenberry, who never gets enough respect because he throws soft and submarine style, should have won the Cy Young award last year. This year, if he keeps up the work, he should be most valuable player.

The AL West race this season may be an embarrassment to baseball. The Chicago White Sox, who won 99 last year and still have worlds of talent, have disgraced themselves. The Angels, loaded with millionaires, have little spirit. The Minnesota Twins have hustled their buttons off and deserve a cheer, but they also have legitimate young talent.

What the Royals are trying to do is unprecedented. They were a losing team, a decimated team, a written-off team, before the roof caved in on them. Now, with children on the mound and nobodies at nearly every position, with six shortstops in one season and enough injuries to stop two good teams, the Royals are in first place.

The Kansas City Royals may not stay in first place very long; they started a 10-game road trip last night. But no matter what they do, they deserve a standing ovation. And if they make the playoffs, anybody who doesn't root for them to steal a world title ought to be ashamed of himself.