On the back wall of the left field bleachers in County Stadium, a huge banner was draped this afternoon that proclaimed, "In heaven there ain't no beer, that's why the Brewers play here."

Today, after two weeks of almost continuous trauma, worry and embarrassment, Milwaukee's fans finally got to celebrate their Brewers' outstanding season.

An autumn crowd of 50,135 cheered until the last bratwurst was savored and the last libation drunk as their True Blue Brew Crew avoided elimination in the American League championship series by beating the California Angels, 5-3.

The Angels, who lead the best-of-five series, 2-1, will send Tommy John against Moose Haas Saturday (WJLA-TV-7, 1 p.m.) in a rain-threatened Game 4.

However, after a determined victory by Don Sutton, an intimidating save by an offseason prison guard, Peter Ladd, and a two-run, game-deciding homer by Paul Molitor, the Brewers can claim to have regained a bit of their mislaid impetus.

Impetus: that's momentum, in a bib and tucker. It's also the quality the Brewers had desperately lacked for the previous 13 days, during which they'd lost eight games--all important and demoralizing.

In the series' two games in Anaheim, Calif., earlier this week, the Brewers looked like escapees from some twilight of the living dead. A season-ending defeat this crisp, cool afternoon would have set up the Brewers for a winter of bitter name-calling.

In fact, "chokers" was the word used in headlines here this morning.

"I'm happy to have our feet back on home ground," said Molitor after a high-decibel day in which a massive drum directed the crowd's cheers. "We knew what we had to do. It was staring us right in the face."

What was staring the Brewers in the face was humiliation; what they did about it was give the ball to the imperturbable Sutton, score five runs in a hurry and call for Ladd when the Angels scored three blessed-with-luck runs in the eighth.

"Big, big, big," said Milwaukee President Bud Selig, acutely aware of how close his club was to a collapse that scars a team indefinitely. "Never did I want a game so much.

"This victory brought a lot of peace of mind with it. It was good for the franchise."

As to discussion here of whether his team has been guilty of that undefinable athletic sin--choking--Selig said, "We resent it bitterly."

The Angels hardly seemed fazed by this defeat. "You aren't going to run around sweepin' teams that win 95 games," said Reggie Jackson, whose three strikeouts were a third of Sutton's total of nine. "That man (Sutton) is makin' $800,000. Why can't he have a great performance, too?"

To be sure, it's still the Brewers who are worried, especially with two apparently lopsided matchups ahead: John-Haas on Saturday and Bruce Kison of California vs. slumping Mike Caldwell on Sunday, if necessary. John and Kison won the first two games.

Although the Brewers don't come right out and say it, they are rooting for thunderstorms, predicted for Saturday, to give them a rainout day of rest and, perhaps, move Pete Vuckovich back into the picture for Sunday.

In a sense, the Brewers should be glad just to be breathing and have their dignity for another day.

True, the Brewers had built a 5-0 lead. First, they'd knocked out loser Geoff Zahn with a three-run fourth, runs scoring on Cecil Cooper's double and sacrifice flies by Gorman Thomas and Don Money. They scored two more in the seventh when Money walked and came home on Molitor's drive into the left field bleachers above the 362-foot sign.

Then, California precipitated the first genuine drama of the series by knocking out Sutton in the eighth.

Bob Boone opened the inning with a controversial first-pitch homer to left. Replays showed a front-row fan reached over the fence and into play to snatch the ball just before it appeared ready to fall into Ben Oglivie's glove.

Umpire Larry Barnett thought the ball was over the fence and into the fan's lap, so he ruled it a home run. Oglivie and the Brewers thought otherwise, and fans in the bleachers pointed fingers and fists at the sure-handed miscreant. And Sutton seemed to lose his edge.

"I haven't seen the replay yet," said Barnett after the game, "but I'm sure I will." Just like he saw the replays of his Fisk-Armbrister noninterference call in the 1975 Series for years.

To that point, Sutton had been dazzling. And, in truth, the afternoon shadows had been brutally tough on hitters. "I struck out twice without seeing a pitch well enough to try to swing at it," said Jackson.

"Very clever, very clever," said Mauch of Sutton, adding numerous indirect, amusing references to the crafty and illegal workmanship Sutton supposedly performs on the ball.

Sutton's slider had been his best pitch. He and catcher Ted Simmons had simplified pitching to the Angels by comparing them to National Leaguers whose strengths and weaknesses they have known for years. Thus, Jackson became Dave Parker, Brian Downing was Glenn Hubbard with power, Bobby Grich and Doug DeCinces were Jack Clark.

But Sutton was tiring. Carew beat out a bunt and scored when Lynn sliced a two-out double into the left field corner that would have struck at the top of the fence by the 315-foot sign. Would have, that is, if Oglivie had not had the ball in his glove for an instant, then dropped it as he smashed into the wall.

When Don Baylor hit the next pitch over third for another RBI double, Milwaukee Manager Harvey Kuenn consulted Sutton.

"I'm 37. I've pitched over 4,000 innings. I was just running out of gas," said Sutton. "I told Archie (Kuenn's nickname, after Archie Bunker) that I was a little bit short. I didn't want to be left in a position where I could bury us. He did what he always does when I tell him that, which is almost all the time. He nodded."

In came the large Ladd. The 26-year-old right-hander, who is 6-foot-3 and weighs 240 pounds, has big shoes to fill--those of injured Rollie Fingers. Fortunately, he has the feet for it: size 15 EEEEE. This day, he had the arm, too.

In Game 2, he struck out Jackson, Lynn and Carew in one perfect inning. "That helped. I got my feet wet," said Ladd, who has a degree in criminology and an offseason job as a sheriff and prison guard in Maine.

Ladd's obstacle in the eighth was DeCinces. That, in itself, should have told the Angels this wasn't their day for champagne. In the previous inning, DeCinces, known to players as "Horn" for his nose, had suffered the sixth broken nose of his career, with a foul ball off the bat. He wouldn't leave.

In daily life, such misfortune gets a fellow sympathy. In the playoffs, it gets you 90-mph fast balls. DeCinces grounded out.

An inning later, the Brewers could head for the comforts of home and start praying for rain.