It may be another long winter for the California Angels.

One year ago, they folded in the last two weeks of September and handed the American League West title to the Kansas City Royals.

This year, the season ends a week later. But the Angels' act doesn't appear to have changed.

Tonight, they lost to the Royals for the third time in four nights, shut down for the second straight game by a pitcher who hadn't been able to get anyone out for almost two months.

The final score was 4-1, Kansas City getting home runs off loser Don Sutton (15-10) from Frank White, Steve Balboni and George Brett to back the pitching of Danny Jackson (14-12). The victory, on a suddenly summery evening before 40,894 at Royals Stadium, left Kansas City alone in first place, one game ahead of the Angels.

The Royals will finish the season with three games here against the Oakland A's, who have lost 22 of their last 31 games. The Angels, who lost five of seven to Kansas City down the stretch last year and five of seven again this year, will go to Texas for their last three games.

California scored a total of six runs in 36 innings here, not scoring a run after the fifth inning Tuesday night until there were two out in the ninth tonight -- 21 innings in all. Tonight, they had nine hits in eight innings and still failed to score.

When the Angels did finally get a run, Dan Quisenberry came on to get the last out, earning his 36th save of the season.

One person who might have produced a run or two for California wasn't even in the lineup because the big news before the first pitch was Angels Manager Gene Mauch's decision to bench Reggie Jackson. Mr. October benched in October.

"I didn't expect not to be in there, but when you're three for 40 you shouldn't be shocked not to be in there," Jackson said as his teammates took batting practice. I'm not thrilled, but it doesn't matter what I think; it matters what the manager thinks.

"It's natural to be disappointed, but it's happened to me before. In '77, I didn't start the fifth game of the playoffs here. Gene came over and told me when I came into the locker room. It was all very professional. Of course, I may not professionally agree."

Jackson shrugged. "I always say, you do or you don't. And when you don't, sooner or later, you will."

Mauch said he was "resting" Jackson. "He's struggling, he's mentally tired," he said. "We'll give him a day off and have him fresh tomorrow."

The Angels were quickly in trouble tonight. Since George Brett -- who was the designated hitter because because of a strained ligament in his right ankle -- had driven in six of the Royals' nine runs during the first three games, Sutton decided to pitch him carefully.

In the bottom of the first, Sutton walked Brett on four pitches with two out and nobody on. That seemed sensible enough with Frank White coming up. White had been one for 12 in the series and was two for 18 lifetime against Sutton.

But this was not a night to be strategic if you were wearing a California uniform. Sutton got ahead of White, but got a breaking pitch up on 1-2. White sent it into the night, the ball landing in the back of the California bullpen, well over 400 feet from home plate.

That got the Royals off to a rolling start for the second straight night. What's more, for the second straight night, the Angels were making a struggling Kansas City pitcher look good. Wednesday night, it was Bud Black. Tonight, it was Danny Jackson.

They left two men on in the first and another in the third. In the fourth, Bob Boone and Dick Schofield singled with one out. Rufino Linares -- playing in place of Gary Pettis, who had a sore wrist -- hit a drive to the warning track in right, but Pat Sheridan caught it at the fence.

That brought up Bobby Grich, the veteran of many a pennant race. He worked Jackson to 3-2 and fouled off three straight pitches. But Jackson came back with a wicked slider and Grich swung through the ball. That brought to five the men left on base for the Angels through four innings.

On the other side, Sutton continued to get his pitches up and the Royals kept hitting them to faraway places. In the fourth, Balboni hit an 0-2 pitch over the left field fence for his 36th homer of the season to make it 3-0.

In the fifth, Sutton again pitched carefully to Brett, falling behind, 3-1. But he forgot to keep the ball away on his next pitch, a slider that didn't slide, and Brett pulverized the ball, hitting it to dead center field, well over the 410 mark, onto the embankment behind the wall. That made it 4-0.

The Royals' chances looked even better when Jackson extended the scoreless string to 20 innings, first getting three ground balls in the sixth, then getting a force play and a nifty 5-4-3 double play started by Greg Pryor to end the seventh.

In the eighth, it seemed certain that the Angels would finally get to Jackson. Darrell Miller -- Jackson's replacement -- opened with a single up the middle and Juan Beniquez followed with another.

That brought up the heart of the California lineup. It didn't matter. Rod Carew grounded to second, the runners advancing. Brian Downing left them there, striking out on three pitches. Only Doug DeCinces hit the ball hard. He hit a line drive towards the gap in left center.

But Wilson sprinted hard, turned his back almost to home plate, leaped and made a backhand catch at the warning track. DeCinces slammed his helmet in disgust between first and second while Wilson bounced off the fence and shook his fist gleefully.

The Royals were three outs away from taking command in the West with three games left to play.