Throughout World Series history, it has been customary to discuss the matchups between starting pitchers, like the pairing of Philadelphia's 24-game winner, Steve Carlton, against Kansas City's 6-foot-7 fast baller, Rich Gale, in Tuesday night's sixth game (8:15 p.m. on WRC-TV-4).

In this 77th Series, however, the focus of pitching attention has not been on the starters nearly as much as on the finishers. In every game, the key hurling figure has been either Phillie Tug McGraw or Royal Dan Quisenberry, whether they were winning the game, saving the game or getting crushed in defeat. Also, in three of the five games to date, Tylenol Tug and Quippy Quiz have dueled head-to-head in the late innings with the game on the line.

In addition, McGraw and Quisenberry have been, far and away, the most talkative, delightful and eccentric players on their respective teams. Both are underpowering underdogs who prosper on smarts, indefatigable good spirits that stand up to misfortune and a plunging trick pitch -- McGraw's scroggie and Quisenberry's submarine sinker.

"Our backs are up against the wall," said Quisenberry today, mindful that his team trails in games, 3-2. "The Berlin Wall. East side."

"My mind is exhausted, but my arm is okay," said McGraw. "That's fortunate, 'cause I earn my living with my arm, not my brain. I've never earned a dollar with my head. If I did, then I'd be soaking my head in this ice water right now instead of my elbow."

If Quisenberry and McGraw seem artificially witty, fellows playing to the microphone, it is an illusion. Among relief pitchers, they are the rule, not the exception. The first requisite for their professional survival is a left-handed view of the world, regardless of which hand they actually use to pitch.

They realize that each day they will be either the hero or the goat, savior or sinner, for their entire team. And which it will be often has little to do with them or how they perform. The Series has been a perfect example of the relief pitcher's strange existence. For Tug and Quiz, this is the World Series.

The baseball world has long known how McGraw slaps his thigh with his glove, talks to hitters, screams on the mound and winks and waves to his wife in the stands. "Tug will do anything," says Larry Bowa, Phil shortstop. "If a guy gets a hit, he'll stand there and yell, 'How could you hit that pitch? You're not that good.' If we make a great defensive play for him, he yells, 'That's what you're paid for, you. . .' He's so crazy high-strung that he has to let it out somehow."

However, Quisenberry, whose 45 victories and saves in '80 are the second highest total in history, was quickly making a reputation as a character as vivid as McGraw, but quite different in temperament. The Quiz is as placid, humble and fatalistic as McGraw is hyper, arrogant and in charge of his fate. When a batter strikes out against Quisenberry, he says, "How could you miss that pitch? Everybody hits me. I'm the only man in history with more saves than strikeouts."

Nevertheless, the similarities below the surface link the two. Both came up with identical nicknames for their best pitch in midseason without knowing the other had done it. But they did it for opposite, but equally deceitful reasons.

Quisenberry dubbed his sinker the Peggy Lee, claiming that batters said, Is That All There Is?" when they first saw it. His motive, of course, is to delude hitters into thinking his pitch has so little stuff on it that they need not be selective among his tosses, but just flail away. The opposite is true. Quiz has even hung a picture of Lee over his locker, lest anyone forget. Never has a fine pitcher been so anxious to advertise his limitations.

McGraw, on the other hand, has named his fastball the Peggy Lee, laughing about how mediocre it is. The truth of McGraw's great second half is that he has suddenly discovered the hottest heater of his career, even if he knows not why.

Though neither McGraw nor Quisenberry would admit it, both are treading on even thinner ice than usual. Both are worn to the nub. And neither manager trusts anyone else in his bullpen. McGraw's postseason ERA is 3.29, compared to 1.47 in the regular season, while Quisenberry's is 3.86, up from 3.09. McGraw has pitched in eight of 10 Phil postseason games, while Quiz has been in seven of 10, including an arduous 49-pitch outing on Sunday. q

Both teams know that Carlton and Gale may start Game 6, but if it is close, they probably won't finish it. Carlton threw 159 pitches last time out, has been overworked for a month and has a mediocre 4.5 runs-against average in his modest postseason career. The Royals would be delighted to get five decent innings out of Gale.

Once the starters are gone, once this 77th World Series is absolutely on the line, chances are that McGraw and Quisenberry -- both proven vulnerable despite their best rules -- will hold the game in their hands, just as they have done all month. Whatever they are doing on the outside, they won't be laughing on the inside.