He is breathing rarefied air. Right now, the Lord himself might have trouble throwing the ball past Ken Laudreaux.

His team, the Minnesota Twins, is in last place: he is in the ozone.

He is leading the American League in hitting (.356) and has hit safely in 31 straight games. He has his streak on the line against the Baltimore Orioles this weekend.

"It's like a trance," Landreaux said on the phone yesterday. "Slow motion. I can see the threads on the ball, and sometimes even the writing."

It says: "If it's over the plate, I'll hit it. It's like dreaming ahead of time. You visualize yourself doing it and then you're up there. You can see the ball coming, the bat hitting the ball and then you're doing it."

Hitting is Landreaux's mantra; Metropolitan Stadium his cloister. There is no pressure in a vacuum, he says. "I don't feel anything right now because there's no public relations out here. No one knows. There are maybe 3,000 fans at the game. But there are 25 other teams paying more attention than our own owner is.

"They keep the publicity down, and that way they keep the money down," he added.

Calvin Griffith, owner of the Twins, is notoriously tight with a buck. Landreaux says he is underpaid at $80,000 a year, and "isn't going to let it happen again.

For the year I had last year (.305, 83 runs batted in, 172 hits), guys are making three times as much as i am."

Landreaux signed a one-year contract in January. "That's all they're going to get me for is one year," he said. "That's what I said last year."

He declined to say whether he would ask to be traded if his salary demands were not met next year as Rod Carew did, in the deal that brought Landreaux to Minnesota. "I could ask to be traded, but they still don't have to let me go," he said.

"I only have a one-year contract, but I have three to go until I'm a free agent (players are only eligible for free agency after six years). I'm not in a position to do anything. It'squite a long way away. Right now, I have to accept the situation. Right now, it's enough to get a chance to play every day."

Landreaux is helping the Twin Cities forget Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva and even Carew. Landreaux was one of four Angels who came to the Twins Feb. 3, 1979 in exchange for Carew.

Landreaux spent three years at Arizona State, Reggie Jackson's alma mater. "They compare us a lot. We went to the same school, and we kind of talk the same and act the same. When I got traded here, I told the media the deal should have been one for one, just me and Carew."

Even his voice has a bit of a swagger.

Reporters ask if he's surprised at his hitting streak. "It's almost like they believe I shouldn't be doing it," he said incredulously. "But I've been doing it all through my baseball career."

From Little League in Compton, Calif., from where he went to the World Series, to Arizona State, where he went to the World Series, he went to the minor leagues where he was voted player of the year in 1977.

He is in his third full year in the major leagues. He says it's not as tough as he thought it would be. "I always thought the guys in the major leagues were superior. But it's not that tough. The tough part is getting alongwith the politicians, relating to the owners and stuff."

Landreaux was benched for two games in Baltimore in early May despite his streak. "We have these insignias on our socks. I don't like to wear my pants up to my knees. I'm a modern ballplayer. I wear my pants long and my socks high. They fined me $100 for that. I said take the money. lI don't even want to play. I'm here to play ball, not for a man to tell me how to dress.

"Then we were playing at Yankee Stadium, and we were getting our butts beat. I hit the ball to right field and Reggie Jackson misplayed. The manager fined me $100 for not trying to go to second. The run didn't mean nothing. We were losing 10-0."

He's only the 27th major leaguer to hit in 30 or more consecutive games.

The streak began April 23, the day he ruined Bruce Kison's no-hitter in the ninth inning with a double. He says he wasn't even aware of the streak until game No. 17, when one of the broadcasters told him. When he broke the club record -- 24 -- set in 1961 by Lenny Green, he again broke up a no-hitter.

Sometimes, including that time, "the bat feels like it weighs 50 pounds," he said. "I've gotten up and said, "I can't swing it, I'll try to bunt it." I got a single up the middle off a right-handed pitcher, I don't know how I did it.

"And sometimes i go up there and the bat's so light. It feels like you can wait until the last second to swing to see whether it's a ball or strike."

Landreaux says the burden won't become heavy until the 35th game, if he makes it that far.

In the meantime, he's at home with his wife and son, watching the soaps, taking it easy.

"It's called "One Life to Live," he said.

He's living it.