There is a sign in the Blue Jays' clubhouse that reminds each player, just before he takes the field: "Winners expect to win in advance; life is a self-fulfilling prophecy."

So who's the joker who scripted this one? Who predetermined, however long ago, that Canada's team just now would paste a sad face on the only man in these American League playoffs with Canadian blood?

What knee-slapping pixie pretended to snatch Game 2 from the Blue Jays in the top of the 10th inning, on a wildly controversial play, and then immediately flipped it back in an eerie sequence of stumbling?

And on the dark side of this prophecy business, which god of sport has the Kansas City manager, Dick Howser, offended? Poor fellow. He has been chief thinker in 11 AL playoff games -- and lost every single time.

This one, he figured, couldn't possibly slip away.

Unless it could.

"How we got there isn't important," he said, referring to a trapped ball that these eyes thought looked mighty like a catch by center fielder Lloyd Moseby. "We're up a run, with our best guy (Dan Quisenberry) out there.

"And we don't get it done."

It was hot in the manager's office, but Howser's thick jacket stayed snapped tight around his neck. The patch of hair on his head was scattered every which way, possibly in fright, each strand for itself. No telling what might get ripped next.

Someone mentioned jinx?

"I don't believe in that," Howser said. "I do believe in breaks, and we gave 'em too many. It cost us. We rarely make mistakes on defense, because we don't get many runs."

The Royals jumped ahead early, and starting pitcher Bud Black seemed especially strong. This dismayed the ever-dwindling crowd here, although both his father and mother are Canadian.

Black was born in California, his father having drifted to warmer climes to play collegiate hockey for, of all schools, Southern Cal.

Through three-plus innings, the Blue Jays were hitless against Black. Only one batter, shortstop Tony Fernandez, even managed to reach base.

Black hit George Bell with one out in the fourth, and he scored on a double by designated hitter Cliff Johnson. But the Royals were fortunate on the play, for Johnson thought he had been rehired late in the season to run also.

Trying for three bases, Johnson started a head-first slide miles too soon, and was into an imitation of Mark Spitz, flailing about in some sort of freestyle motion, as the tag was applied.

Had Johnson stayed safe, and sensible, at second, he would have scored on the single Willie Upshaw belted to left to start the fifth.

It was the sort of omen that only could have heartened Howser. Then the Royals tried to be greedy in the fourth, and only succeeded in bringing the Blue Jays' 6-foot-3 lucky charm into the game.

With one out, Kansas City ahead by 3-0 and Jim Sundberg on third, in from the bullpen marched Dennis Lamp. He is the formerly ordinary middle reliever who was unbeaten in 11 decisions during the regular season.

Lamp credits self-hypnosis with extending his career by years, and he was in a frame of mind to get Lonnie Smith to ground to third and Willie Wilson to fly out to right.

"Three runs isn't an awful lot for this team to make up," Lamp said of his keeping Sundberg strapped to third. "If they'd gotten four, we probably would have lost."


Still, the Blue Jays and Lamp seem as touched in a happy way as Howser seems cursed. Each also gets tormented quite a lot.

The Royals regained the lead in the top of the 10th when Wilson scurried home from second while Moseby was trying to convince everyone he had grabbed Frank White's sinking liner for what would have been the third out.

The closest umpire, Ted Hendry, was mesmerized and made no call. But the ump on the right field foul line, Dave Phillips, saw a trap, that the ball had grazed the turf before settling into Moseby's glove.

"The replay showed I caught the ball," Moseby said. From one angle, it did.

"The replay showed trap," Howser said.

From another angle, it did.

Maybe you can fool all of the people all of the time after all. The Toronto manager, Bobby Cox, was neither long nor loud in protest.

He had no angle, somebody having blocked his view. Had the call gone against him, Howser said, he would have blistered Phillips.

"We'd still be out there," Howser said. "I'd have run out with a camera crew and the tapes."

He managed a faint smile.

So fortunate, for a change; so gloomy, again, in a hurry.

Leading off the bottom of the 10th, Fernandez slapped a ball that shortstop Onix Concepcion could not pull from his glove soon enough to throw him out.

A groundout later, Fernandez scored on Moseby's single to right; shortly after that came another of those goofy moments that had Howser's hairs fearing for their lives.

It was a harmless throw to first to keep Moseby honest, except Steve Balboni failed to catch the ball and Moseby sped to second.

The way fate was orchestrating matters, it was quite natural for Al Oliver to look silly on two pitches and then bump a grounder between short and third for the game-winning single.

Quisenberry was asked if the Royals were "snakebit."

"Didn't see a snake out there," he said.

Howser might not be so certain.

"That (0-11) doesn't bother me," he said. "It's not my record (deflecting much of the blame to his players for going 0-3 with the Yankees in 1980, and 0-3 with the Royals in '81 and '84)."

What burns Howser is being 0-2 now instead of 1-1. Humbly, he pleaded: "We need to win one in a row. That's all we need to do." Is anyone listening?