ST. LOUIS — Hoist the guillotines. Polish the blades. We’re down to one game again, and it’s time to see if the Kansas City Royals finally get their heads chopped off.

Of course, anyone who has followed this team since late September knows the Royals seem to gravitate to a disadvantage like Prince does to purple underwear.

They had to charge to catch California in their division. They were down 3-1 to Toronto in the American League playoffs before coming back to win in seven. And now, down they are again, this time 3-1 in the World Series.

Wednesday night it was by the hand — or the arm — of John Tudor, who was actually 1-7 earlier this season, if you can believe that. Not the way he hurled against the Royals. Gave up but five hits. He threw so few pitches Wednesday, he shouldn’t be paid for a full game. In some innings he was on and off the mound faster than the foam could settle on the Budweiser.

“He was awesome,” said his catcher, Tom Nieto, who had the best squat in the house for the evening’s performance.

The KC hitters, not known for a noisy offense anyhow, went down silently to Tudor, blowing a bases-loaded opportunity in the seventh inning.

In the eighth came the ultimate showdown for a pitcher facing Kansas City: George Brett at the plate. Man on third.

Tudor struck him out on three pitches.

Pressure on the Royals

So here we are again, KC down 3-1.

Tonight will be interesting. Remember when Brett said “the pressure is on them” when Toronto took a 3-1 lead in the playoffs? A lot of people laughed at that remark. But it seemed to prove correct. Toronto got thick in the Adam’s apple and KC came back and snatched the thing away.

Can it happen against a team as powerful as the Cardinals? No. No way. Absolutely not.

I don’t think.

The problem is you can’t be sure with these Kansas City guys. Are they really that relaxed under pressure? Can you believe Willie Wilson when he says, “We’ve been doing this all year? We just have to do it again.”

Who knows?

Not even Brett. “I can’t explain it, to be honest,” he said. “I’ve been asked this question about 29 times a day. Why do we always fall behind, then come back? I honestly don’t know.”

“Hey,” said KC manager Dick Howser, “it’s no different than what we had to do coming here tonight. We have to win three games. We just have less time to do it now.”

No matter what happens tonight, the Cardinals should get some credit for what they’ve accomplished thus far. Remember when this series started, how all we heard about was the Cardinals’ speed, speed, speed? How their larceny legs would make life hell for the Royals?

It hasn’t. Going into Game 4, the Royals actually had more stolen bases than the Cards. With Vince Coleman the victim of The Thing That Lives Beneath the Astroturf, they lost half their one-two blaze. Yet they’ve won with a combination of timely hitting and, Wednesday night, dominating pitching.

Take away a team’s most lethal weapon and watch it still win three games in the World Series, you’re talking impressive.

I’m impressed. Everybody here is impressed. Are you impressed? Jackson gets another try

So now, we have a deja vu. Tonight, Danny Jackson takes the mound for KC in Game 5. He pitched Game 5 in the playoffs as well, winning a 2-0 shutout that saved the Royals from extinction. After that game, you recall, his biggest concern was taking his parents to the airport and getting some sleep.

Another unflappable one.

Personally, I don’t know whatever happened to pressure, but it seems to have taken a vacation from this series. Maybe it stopped at one of those luxurious motels along I-70.

When the Royals lost the second game on that freak ninth- inning rally by St. Louis, they were depressed, but not dejected. The next day they were kidding around and the following day they won.

Go figure.

And after Wednesday night’s loss, the Royals acted as if they were picking up their laundry. “Our pitchers are in good shape,” Howser said. “All we need is good performances by them and we can get back in it.”

The games don’t come any bigger, the attention doesn’t get any greater. The Budweiser Clydesdales don’t show up for just anything, you know.

But the Royals go on, as unshakable as a bat in concrete.

All of which makes tonight’s game not worth betting any money on, if you’re inclined to do such things. The Cardinals are powerful, fast, and at home. But the Royals have seen the Grim Reaper before.

They probably invited him out for a burger.

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