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After 1-16 start, Royals make long climb back to respectability


Everywhere Hal McRae went, the shadow of defeat followed. The Kansas City Royals manager couldn't shake it.

"Waking up each morning and facing another day, that was the worst part," McRae said, smiling.

No Royals were smiling when the team started the season 1-16, including three straight losses to the Orioles at Royals Stadium. But in games since then, Kansas City is 28-26.

"It was tough going to the grocery store, out to get a haircut, seeing people you knew," McRae said. "It was embarrassing."

One Royal had endured such an ugly stretch before. Pitcher Mike Boddicker was with the Orioles when they opened 1988 with a major-league record 21 defeats.

"In '88, we scored some runs, but couldn't hold anybody down," said Boddicker, who was removed, along with his 0-4 record, from Kansas City's starting rotation this month.

"I remember we had games won in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, but found a way to lose. We'd look over our shoulders waiting for something to happen, and it did.

"This year it was mostly a case of not scoring. Wally Joyner was about the only one hitting over .200."

The Royals' lone victory in the first 17 games was against Oakland, accomplished with one hit, Keith Miller's infield single, an error and a couple of wild pitches by A's reliever Rick Honeycutt. Even that didn't bring the Royals out of their slump.

"The unusual thing is, this team never got down on itself," Boddicker said. "I think it helped that there are so many diverse personalities. With Baltimore in '88, the team got down. The longer it went, the worse it got."

The misery ended for the Royals one Sunday night in late April. They won, 9-0, as Mark Gubicza pitched seven shutout innings and the manager's son, Brian, hit a home run.

"We dug ourselves a hole," 18-year Kansas City veteran George Brett said last night. "Now it's a matter of how far we can get out of it. Just because you start 1-16 doesn't mean you stop trying. You can't quit."

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