KANSAS CITY, MO. -- Mark Davis's eyes started to moisten. He bit his lower lip. He then began blinking rapidly, hoping that his eyelids would wash away the tears.

This was the last thing he wanted. He had somehow managed to keep his composure these past two traumatic months, and now here, sitting on the middle of the Kansas City Royals' bench, he was starting to lose it. Please, don't let it happen, he told himself. Not where his teammates could see him. Not with his manager standing 15 feet away.

Davis turned away, paused, squeezed his thighs and took a deep breath. Okay. Everything would be all right. His teammates hadn't seen a thing.

But for the first time, he knew that his cover was blown. As much as he has tried to let everyone in Kansas City know that he's happy, comfortable with his decision to leave the San Diego Padres and Southern California for the Royals and the Midwest, it has been one large facade.

Never in his life did he envision that he could be so miserable playing the game he long has cherished. How could he make so much money, he asks himself, and feel so rotten?

How could he win a Cy Young Award in November, be provided a four-year, $13 million contract in December, buy a bigger home than he ever dreamed of in January and feel as if the world is tumbling down upon him in June?

"I never thought something like this would happen," Davis said. "Never did I envision this. You try to put everything out of your mind, but that's impossible.

"Every day I think, 'This is going to be the day. This is going to be the day where everything turns around. This is the day where life is good again.'

"But every day turns out to be the same, only a little worse than the one before.

"I've tried to keep a good perspective on things, but it's hard, really hard."

Davis turned away. This isn't easy. Talking about failure never is. But even though he lost 17 games as a starting pitcher for the San Francisco Giants in 1984 and was a mediocre middle reliever the next three seasons, there's no comparison to his current suffering.

He came to the Royals as their savior. He was the bullpen stopper who was supposed to be the last piece of the puzzle the Royals needed to finally get past the Oakland Athletics in the American League West. The Royals haven't had a pitcher save more than 20 games in a season since the departure of Dan Quisenberry in 1985, and now they had a guy who saved 44 in 48 opportunities for the Padres in 1989.

"Everybody was saying this is the guy who's going to lead us to the championship," said Frank Funk, the Royals' pitching coach. "Hell, I thought he would. I mean, I've been in professional baseball for 36 years, and with him and the rest of the pitchers on this staff, I thought this was a 36-year dream come true.

"It's turned into one living nightmare.

"I've done everything I can to control my emotions and not take it home with me, but that's impossible. I remember waking up in the middle of the night once, and there I was, pacing the floor at 3 in the morning, wondering what was going on.

"I've been in organizations where we've lost a lot of games, and I've been on a lot of bad teams, but I've never had it affect me more than this. I never thought I'd live to see the day where I actually didn't look forward to coming to the ballpark every day.

"You look at Mark and what's happened to some of the other pitchers, and you wonder why baseball {with its unpredictability} is so concerned with gambling.

"I mean, who'd ever thought something like this would happen? Who could have predicted that after winning a Cy Young, the same guy would be wondering if he could do the job anymore."

Who'd have thought that Davis, one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet, would wind up being largely responsible for the fact that his manager and pitching coach are worrying about being fired? Who'd have thought that Davis would help cause an organization to contemplate wholesale changes, a rebuilding process? Who'd have thought that Davis would have General Manager John Schuerholz saying that any further free agent bidding is unlikely in their future? And who'd have thought that Davis, the finest reliever in baseball last season, would now be nothing more than a middle man who appears in meaningless games?

The same guy who virtually was unhittable last season, who had at least six teams, including the Angels, offering him more than $3 million a year, was yielding a .300-plus batting average to opponents.

The numbers get even worse. Davis, 1-3 with an ERA near six, has blown four of his past five save opportunities. He recorded his fifth save May 7, and hasn't been entrusted to a save situation since.

Said Pat Dobson, the Padres' pitching coach who coaxed 71 saves in 81 attempts out of Davis the past two seasons: "It's unbelievable, isn't it? He's a 3 million dollar mop-up man. Three millions dollars for a guy they won't trust in close games.

"You don't know how this depresses me. It really does. I think about him a lot.

"He's called me a few times, and I've tried to help him, but there's only so much you can do over the phone. I've offered to fly in to help him, but it's kind of awkward since he's with another team. I'd just like to have 30 minutes with him, and I'll straighten him out again.

"You know what I really wish, I wish they'd say, 'Here, you can have him back. He's not helping us anyway, you give him a shot.' That's what I wish.

"It's just not right what he's going through."

It occurred just two weeks ago, the night of May 29. Davis walked to the mound, heard a smattering of boos and then saw some shiny objects being hurled at him.

He looked closer. They were coins. His own fans at Royals Stadium were throwing money at him. He tried to ignore them, fighting off the tears and humiliation, but it was of no use. He walked pinch hitter Tracy Jones on five pitches. That was enough for Manager John Wathan, who immediately yanked him.

The booing was deafening. It was as if the fans hit a button and all at once decided to vent their anger and frustration over the Royals' failure upon Davis.

"I've never heard our fans act that way before," one team official said. "They were unmerciful. I mean, they've booed Quiz {Quisenberry} at times and Bo {Jackson} for a while after he announced he was going to the Raiders, but nothing like this.

"It's almost come to a point now where I think he's scared to pitch."

Davis has become the focal point of public ridicule on Kansas City talk shows. One radio station recently played the song "Wild Thing" over and over, taunting Davis. Another station is saturated with calls requesting that the Royals trade Davis.

"I guess that's surprised me more than anything," Davis said. "They've really been on me hard. You get booed, and you think: 'I am trying so hard. So hard. I wish you knew how hard I was trying.' But obviously, it's a part of the game, and they don't like the way I've been pitching.

"The best thing I can do now is to change those boos to cheers, or at least quiet."

But Davis is only fooling himself if he believes that he can soothe the wounds without pitching up to Cy Young standards again. The day he signed his contract, paying him more per year than any player in the history of the Royals, put him in his own private sector as far as the fans are concerned.

You've got to remember, this is a franchise that, until former California Angels catcher Bob Boone came along, had not signed a free agent since utility infielder Jerry Terrell in 1978. And now, here they were, paying more money to a relief pitcher than fixtures George Brett and Frank White combined. What's this guy ever done for the franchise, the fans asked? The only thing they knew about Davis was that he struck out Jackson in the 1989 All-Star Game.

It hardly put Davis in good stead with his teammates, either. Brett, a 13-time all-star, demanded to be traded when the Royals refused to renegotiate his contract. Jeff Montgomery, who saved 18 games with a 1.37 ERA in 1989, asked to be traded. And two-time Cy Young Award-winner Bret Saberhagen and two-time all-star pitcher Mark Gubicza, each of whom signed three-year deals last fall, wondered aloud why Davis was provided an extra year with a lot more money.

"There might have been," Schuerholz said, "some psychological negative impact among our players, who might have said to themselves: 'Geez, why are they bringing guys in from the outside, paying him all this money. I've been here for five or six years, I helped this club win a pennant and get in a World Series, and I'm not getting what this guy's getting. What about me?'

"We knew that might occur, but we took our chances. We thought the signing of Mark Davis was the final piece of the puzzle, and he'd get us over the top."

Instead, Davis has flopped, and the Royals are floundering right with him. The Royals (22-34) are 16 games behind the Athletics and have already spent more time in last place in any of their previous 21 seasons.

But is it fair for everyone to say Davis is the man responsible for the collapse of the club?

"Baseball is such a psychological game," Schuerholz said, "that when Mark went out and struggled, I think the players began to have some doubts whether we'd have enough runs going into the ninth inning. So they started putting more pressure on themselves to do more. The starting pitchers thought they had to pitch better, to get a bigger lead. . . . It was a big snow-balling effect."

The players say that they hold no ill feelings or grudges toward Davis because of his contract. The ones who have taken time to know him enjoy his company. But the confidence they once had in their new teammate has deteriorated.

"We heard all about him and what a great pitcher he was and stuff," said third baseman Kevin Seitzer, "and now we're saying, 'okay, where is he? Come on, where is he?'

"I remember talking to Gary Gaetti during the winter, and he said, 'I faced him in the all-star game, and this guy is unbelievable. The guy can't be touched.' That's all we heard about. We kept hearing how he'd dominate, but he hasn't been dominating much of anything yet.

"During training camp, I'd ask {catcher} Mike Macfarlane how he's pitching, and he'd say, 'Well, some days he's on, some days he's off.' We were a little surprised, but we thought, 'It's just spring training. Wait until the season starts.' Well, the season started, and nothing's changed. If anything, it's gotten worse."

Whether it is the burden of trying to live up to his contract, the daily disappointment of his performance or just living in the Midwest, Davis's personality is only a skeleton of what it was. Instead of sticking around and having a couple of beers with his teammates after games, Davis is among the first to leave. Instead of being the clubhouse prankster he was in San Diego, Davis keeps to himself, talking mostly to the batboys. Instead of laughing aloud, he's crying inside.

"You can tell he's miserable here," second baseman White said. "Any time you're making 3 million, coming off 44 saves, blowing most of your opportunities here and have people booing you, you're going to be miserable.

"You hate to see anybody go through this, but because he's a new guy, and no one really knows him, no one can really help him."

Davis talks almost daily with Andrew Jacobs, the team psychologist. He has telephoned several of his former Padres teammates and has had conversations with Padres coaches Greg Riddoch and Dobson. Everyone comes away with the same impression.

"I talked to him the other day, and it didn't even sound like the same guy," said Padres reliever Mark Grant, who had been teammates with Davis since 1984 in San Francisco. "Usually, he says: 'Hey, great, how are you doing? Great to hear from you.' Now, it's, 'I'm doing okay, what about you?'

"I said, 'Just okay?' He said, 'Yeah, that's about it.'

"It's scary, really. You feel for him so much. Man, I wish he was back here."

The cruel fact is that Davis never should have left in the first place. The Padres know that. Davis knows that.

Practically everyone in the Padres organization has been blamed for his departure. President Dick Freeman had the opportunity to sign Davis to a two-year, $2.4 million contract as late as April but decided to wait. Corporate lawyer Fred Lane, who was assigned the case by Padres owner Joan Kroc, had two months to sign Davis after the season ended but failed. Davis had a four-year, $12 million offer from the Padres on Dec. 3 but turned it down. Alan and Randy Hendricks, Davis's agents, believed that the Padres would continue to offer more.

Then, the Hendricks made a huge mistake. They publicly criticized Kroc. She telephoned McKeon and told him that he had better find himself a reliever, because Davis wasn't coming back.

"There's no way he wanted to leave San Diego," Padres catcher Mark Parent said. "All he wanted was the best deal he could get, but I don't think he realized there was ever a final offer.

"There's no way he ever wanted to leave. I know that. He knows that. There's not a guy in this clubhouse that doesn't know that."

Davis tries not to think about the Padres. It only makes the pain more severe. Still, he catches himself watching the scoreboard each time the Padres play, and it's the first box score he reads in the morning.

"It doesn't do any good to think about the past," Davis said. "My job is in Kansas City. I keep hearing people talk about all the pressure I'm under because of what I did last year, combined with the money I'm making.

"But I would have been the 3 million man wherever I went. What people don't understand is that I didn't sign saying I was going to be a better pitcher. I signed saying I was going to be Mark Davis.

"These fans don't understand, saying that it makes it easier with the money I'm making. Hey, if all I cared about was the money, there were a lot of others places that offered me more. But I did what I thought was best for me and my family."

If there's any consolation to Davis, at least he has been through the doldrums before. He has experienced plenty of previous failure in his career. And now it's slapping him in the face again.

"But you know," Davis said, "it's like when you stub your toe. You could've stubbed your toe nine times before, but that still doesn't mean the pain's not there, and you don't know when it's going to go away.

"I just wonder when this will."