For a fellow scarcely old enough to swig the stuff in public, Bret Saberhagen slings a mean spray of champagne.

"George has been poppin' off over there," he said of a teammate named Brett. Carefully, awkwardly, so as not to further damage a thumb badly bruised in battle, Saberhagen wrestled the top off a bottle.

The champagne was Canadian.

More specifically, it was Canadian champagne the Blue Jays had purchased in anticipation of their own celebration the night before.

Rather than leaving it on ice, as their hopes of an American League pennant had been left on base, the very blue Jays graciously allowed the Royals to bask in their bubbly.

Share the spoils, it's called.

Baby Bret shook his champagne pistol and took aim at Babe Brett, perhaps 15 feet away.

When George realized he could neither run nor hide in the crowd, he accepted his bath open-mouthed, like a fish waiting for a hook.

The scene was as symbolic as any, for Dan Quisenberry capsulized the Kansas City season as: "Kid pitchers being dominant and veterans who wouldn't let us lose."

The other Royal blue bloods, Hal McRae and Frank White, were as painfully joyous as the 21-year-old Saberhagen. McRae's left side hurt so much he was unable to take batting practice. White's right hand was puffy from a spike wound.

If the Royals are the only American League team still alive, it is barely. They overcame a 3-1 deficit against the Blue Jays with a designated hitter (McRae) too ailing to work at his craft and a second baseman (White) for whom tossing a ball was labor.

That and their best pitcher (Saberhagen) seemingly on some sort of Toronto hit list, as though he'd trashed "O Canada" or called Wayne Gretzky a wimp.

Saberhagen might be the favorite for the Cy Young Award, but he literally was knocked out of two playoff games by the Blue Jays.

In Game 3, he was nailed on the left ankle so hard by Lloyd Moseby's liner that the ball sailed well into the outfield. In Game 7, he could last just 10 more hitters after Willie Upshaw's comebacker hit his thumb.

"George wanted me to stay in there (at the start of the fourth inning) and suck it up," Saberhagen said. "But I didn't want to hurt the team. I figured it was smart to give the ball to someone who could throw it."

Brett and McRae figured it was smart to remind the Blue Jays Sunday morning that it sometimes is more difficult to win one game in a playoff than three.

Brett never mentioned choke, but he said: "The pressure's on them."

Up three games to one, Toronto would have won had the playoffs still been best of five and not the extended version instituted this year.

"Or we'd have rallied sooner," McRae suggested.

Let's call this Kansas City-St. Louis baseball dance the Missouri Schmaltz. The Cardinals lost a wondrous reliever, Bruce Sutter, and compensated splendidly; the Royals grabbed the AL flag with only Brett hitting more than .278 and driving in more than 88 runs.

In Game 7, there seemed to be more Toronto fans stumbling about the field than Kansas City hits. The Royals were more resourceful than the Blue Jays, who left 20 runners stranded during a 19-inning stretch.

Neither did the city react to the pressure of its first playoff with elan. It's one thing to have a minor league park; it's quite another for it to be 11,000 short of capacity for the most important game in the history of the franchise.

And baseball doubts Washington as a big league town!

Kansas City seemed the least likely of the four division winners to reach the Series, to most everyone but its players.

Quietly, confidently, the pitchers began taking batting practice with a few weeks left in a tough race with the Angels. Hey, they reasoned, why not prepare for the best?

That would be just what has happened: being in a World Series, but without being able to use the designated hitter.

The sad fact for the Royals is that Saberhagen, assuming his thumb heals, and Charlie Leibrandt each may have more at bats in the Series than McRae.

McRae was third among regulars in hitting (.259), fourth in home runs (14) and third in RBI (70). Most Royals pitchers have not officially swung a stick in years.

"I never had a hitting stroke to lose, so I'm not too worried," Leibrandt said.

The Blue Jays did not think it cute that Royals Manager Dick Howser maneuvered them so cannily with righty-lefty pitching combinations the final games.

That also was a reason Saberhagen was shooting Brett with champagne and the other Royals were acting juvenile over a boy's game.

"I never dared dream this," said Saberhagen, whose wife is expecting their first child over the weekend. "I was so nervous last night, so nervous tonight."

He laughed.

"I'm getting pretty good shooting this stuff (champagne). Hope I get to do it one more time."

The Royals were prepared for victory, having sealed off each locker with plastic -- to keep clothes from being terminally soggy -- and wheeled in the champagne after a four-run surge in the sixth. They also have a nice attitude about the Series.

When McRae was asked about his role in the DH-less affair, he smiled and said: "It means I'll be hitting with men in scoring position. A lot."