After it was over, after the Baltimore Orioles had hogtied and hornswoggled the Brewers early and late, Milwaukee Manager Harvey Kuenn had to think twice about who was on top in this stranglehold of an American League East Division pennant race.

"We've been down before and we came back," said Kuenn moments after General Manager Harry Dalton had given his troops a closed-door pep talk. "I have no doubt we'll come back again."

Somebody mentioned in the hubbub surrounding the manager's desk, after the Brewers had been swamped in both ends of a doubleheader, that Kuenn's team was still one game up on the advancing Orioles.

"That's right," agreed Kuenn. "We're not down. We're one up."

Around the clubhouse you could almost see Brewers reminding themselves of that.

"They were hotter than hell," said second baseman Jim Gantner of the Orioles' 8-3, 7-1 sweep. "They were pumped up -- totally pumped."

Gantner said Dalton's message, delivered immediately after the players came trudging off the field, was, "Okay, they're hot and they kicked your butts in a doubleheader. Tomorrow we'll get hot and turn it around."

But no Milwaukee player could overlook the devastating thrashing they'd taken, nor the roars of the 51,883 fans that spurred on the Orioles.

The Brewers came into Baltimore and this season-ending four-game series needing one victory to claim the division title, a title they've never won in 12 years in the league.

Thursday night, after a loss to Boston, Gorman Thomas said, "We're in the catbird seat." But now, leading by one game with two to go and the momentum shifting dramatically to the starstruck Orioles, the catbird seat is getting shaky.

"I still feel we can win one," said Paul Molitor, the Brewers' third baseman. "The biggest thing will be to forget today. They came out and played solid, hard-nosed ball and stuck it to us. It's not easy to forget that in a day."

The Orioles walked all over the two aces of the Brewers' pitching staff, 18-game winner Pete Vuckovich and 17-game winner Mike Caldwell. Said Caldwell, victim of two home runs in the seventh inning of the nightcap, which secured the sweep, "Those home runs were on pitches I put exactly where I wanted them, at exactly the speed I wanted them. After that I said to myself, 'I better think about retiring.' "

Caldwell figured that maybe the proximity of success now would work against the Orioles, the way it evidently has against the Brewers, who have lost three straight.

"They can smell it now," said Caldwell. "Just like we can. Maybe tomorrow they'll be tighter."

The Brewers now must relay on two latecomers to their fold, pitchers Doc Medich (12-14), who joined them from Texas Aug. 12, and possibly Don Sutton (3-1), who came over from the National League Aug. 30.

Medich pitches against Scott McGregor Saturday and Sutton, 37, squares off Sunday against Jim Palmer, 36.

Reliever Rollie Fingers, who hasn't pitched for the Brewers since Sept. 16 when he tore a forearm muscle, threw on the sidelines today and said that, though he has pain, he wouldn't rule out pitching before this series is over.

That would be sorely needed help for the Brewers' bullpen, clobbered by Boston and Baltimore the last two days.