It was one of those games with a dozen "what ifs" that probably took Manager Earl Weaver half the plane trip back to Baltimore to forget.

The Orioles had a chance today to become the first team to sweep a four-game series from Kansas City in Royals Stadium, but fell short in crucial situations and lost, 8-4.

"If you gotta leave here with a loss, you may as well go with three out of four," said Floyd Rayford, who started again at third base today and had a home run in the second inning that gave Baltimore a 2-0 lead.

It looked as if the Orioles had a good chance to make history here by opening a big lead in the first inning, but the inning didn't turn out to be nearly as productive as they had hoped.

Fred Lynn, who later had to leave the game with back spasms, drove in a run with a single to left that gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead. And Gary Roenicke drew a walk from Charlie Leibrandt (8-5) to fill the bases with two out.

But Mike Young struck out, leaving Leibrandt and the Royals quite relieved to be trailing by only one.

After Rayford's third homer, Leibrandt retired 13 of 14 batters before giving way to Dan Quisenberry, who pitched the final 2 2/3 innings for his 16th save.

While Leibrandt was setting down the Orioles, Kansas City was hitting and running on Baltimore starter Storm Davis and Nate Snell, who together gave up six of Kansas City's eight runs.

The Royals scored three runs in the third and three in the fourth to take a 6-2 lead. The first three runs made a loser of Davis (4-5), who appeared upset at being taken out after only 2 1/3 innings, with one run in but Royals on first and second.

Weaver went to his best reliever, the man with the best earned run average in the American League, Snell (1.88).

But Frank White greeted Snell with a single that scored two runs to put Kansas City ahead for good, 3-2.

That was only the first, but probably the most important, of the "what if" situations Weaver analyzed afterward.

Weaver took out Davis because, "Storm was nowhere close to where he wanted to be in the strike zone. He had given up, what, five hits?

"We want to get the ball down to White, I've got my sinker-ball man ready in the bullpen. He's been the best (in the league) all season. If Snell can do what he's been doing all season, throw that sinker ball to White, we're out of the inning with the lead.

"But the first pitch to White is up," Weaver said, shaking his head at the memory. "But it's not Nate's fault. He can't be perfect all the time."

Said Snell, "My ball is supposed to sink, but it took Sunday off. That pitch to White was up, and didn't do anything."

His sinker didn't do much in the fourth, either. Willie Wilson, who had two singles and reached base three times, started a rally with a base hit to right.

Lonnie Smith, who also reached safely three times and had two hits, singled to the spot where shortstop Cal Ripken would have been (for a possible double play) if Weaver hadn't had him covering second.

Another "what if."

"That's one reason I'm so mad right now, is that I went out of my way to have Ripken cover (the base) on that play," Weaver said.

George Brett, who had three hits and two runs batted in, singled in a run for a 4-2 lead. And Jorge Orta, hitting .421 this season against Baltimore coming into the game, had one of his two singles to make it 5-2.

Danny Sheridan, a .227 hitter, even got into the act by coming up with Kansas City's fifth straight single, which put the Orioles behind by four runs.

"They came out swinging today," Rayford said. "It's hard to keep a team that good from getting hits at home four straight games."

Rayford was involved in another "what if" situation in the seventh. Young already had doubled off the top of the wall in left center, missing a home run by inches. Rayford had a sure RBI line drive to center snatched down by Leibrandt.

Weaver, reminded of the play, rolled his eyes. Baltimore did get to 6-3 when Rick Dempsey followed with a run-scoring double. And his drive was even closer than Young's to being a home run.

The Orioles might have tied the score that inning. "All the breaks we got the first three games, we didn't get today," Weaver said.

Ripken hit his 13th homer of the year in the eighth before Weaver sent a parade of pinch hitters up against Quisenberry. But the only runs scored were by Kansas City in the eighth off Tippy Martinez and Don Aase.

Weaver, asked how it felt to win three of four in Kansas City, said, "Right now, not good. But if we were coming in and they give us three out of four, I'd have taken it."