At the close of hostilities Sunday, the Baltimore Orioles' record of 14-14 looked fairly good. That is, if you were the world champion Kansas City Royals. They're only 12-16.

Because baseball isn't fair, the Royals aren't the least bit harried, while the Orioles are ulcer candidates. That's the difference between East and West, American League style.

"I'm not worried. Unless we get crippled up, we'll be in it in September. We always are," said Manager Dick Howser after his Royals closed a 1-5 road trip by blowing a three-run lead in Memorial Stadium.

"No sense me gettin' hot tempered. They're bustin' their butts. It'll turn around. Sometimes sooner than later, but it'll turn."

By contrast, Earl Weaver just said, "What's the damn Yankee score?"

The Royals and Orioles are almost perfectly comparable franchises -- in their modest total revenue, their solid organizational philosophy and calm tone. Since 1975, both have been consistently good to excellent. But the Orioles have been better -- 36 wins better.

Yet it's the Royals who have won six divisional flags in that time while the Orioles have won only two.

It's also the Royals who, every year, stagger through the first two or three months of the season, paying almost no price for their sins, while the Orioles must chase some new fast-flying front-runner in their American League East race.

"We pretty much do this every year," said Royals reliever Dan Quisenberry. "We flounder around and don't have any particular personality.

"Then, when the weather gets hot, we emerge. All we want to do is make sure we're pretty close by the all-star break.

" . . . Of course, all we hear is questions about whether we can repeat. We know that's nonsensical. No player would ever talk about repeating. The question is, how do you last for 162 games and win the division? Nobody thinks beyond that."

In the American League West, where clubs are lucky if all 24 players get their shoes on the proper feet, it's no sweat if you stink for 80 or 100 games.

"Nobody will run away," said George Brett, who's hitting .234. "We know that if we win five or six in a row, we may be tied for first place."

The Royals are so nonchalant that they have their familiar landmarks along the season's long road.

"Brett usually starts to hit around his birthday -- May 15. We all know that date," said Quisenberry. "And Hal McRae starts to hit after the temperature hits 90."

"I gotta change my birthday, that's all there is to it," said Brett. "Almost every year, it's the same thing. . . . If you can legally change your name, why can't you have your birth certificate changed?"

When the Royals get annoyed at their .237 team batting average, or their lack of a decent cleanup man behind Brett, they get steamed.

For about a minute.

"We had our chances, but when you don't hit in the clutch, it comes back to haunt you every time," growled Howser after Sunday's 4-3 gut-wrencher. "I'm just tired of talking about our lack of offense. . . . We're going to have to make do with it, like we did last year.

"We're a little snake bit, too."

Nobody on the Orioles' side of the aisle wants to hear such moans. The only snakes in the West are garden variety.

Once upon a time, the Orioles had a season-long pattern as dependable as the one the Royals have patented. Go 30-30 (1980) or 26-26 (1982), then hit a steady stride for a month or so before flying to the wire hellbent the last six to eight weeks.

"If this were a typical Orioles season, like the ones I remember from my first seven seasons here, we'd be right on schedule now," said pitcher Mike Flanagan.

"But is this a typical Oriole team? Tell you one thing, it has more talent than any team I've been on."

For the last 352 games -- a span in which the Orioles are a paltry 12 games over .500 -- talent has not been nearly enough to make the Orioles contenders.

"Every year a team has a different feel to it," said coach Terry Crowley. "Less of it carries over from one season to the next than you might think. You get that sense of yourselves -- what kind of year it'll be -- as you go.

"You make your chemistry along the way."

So far, Prof. Weaver is not pleased with the mix.

"I'm not happy with us," he said. "We've blown a couple of four-run leads . . . and you know that the errors 29 in 28 games will get you sooner or later. We haven't hit at all, but we will before it's over."

This afternoon, the Orioles concocted a bit of a magic potion, thanks to a grand slam by Rick Dempsey. But results are fragmentary.

"They don't have the dominating starting pitchers that they once did," said Brett. "They used to send out four guys and each one looked like a winner before the game started.

"But time goes by too fast in this game. Flanagan, Scott McGregor, Dennis Martinez -- those guys don't throw like they did eight years ago. Jim Palmer and Steve Stone are gone. Nobody has really replaced them.

"Compare the way their starters throw -- lot of curves and sliders, which wear down your arm -- and the way our young guys come right after you. They used to pitch like that."

This was a May day so full of easy breezes and tempting smells that it made you sneeze and laugh, tickled with the promise of a pungent summer on the way.

Afternoons and nights full to the brim with games that mean something. Now that's a consummation that thousands in Memorial Stadium spent their Mother's Day wishing would come to pass. This day's Orioles excellence only made them remember more poignantly what they've been missing the past two seasons.

"Did this look familiar?" asked Weaver after his team had combined strong pitching, patience and a big-inning comeback.

For many of the 24,108 here, it did indeed. Teasingly and tormentingly so.