Keith Hernandez wasn't in the clubhouse five minutes before he said the ugly word.

Spitball.

Fresh from a 10-0 drubbing at the hands of the Brewers in the first game of the World Series, Hernandez said Milwaukee pitcher Mike Caldwell managed his three-hit shutout by "mixing it up with sinkers, screwballs and sliders. Screwballs or spitballs, one or the other."

Hernandez said Caldwell's screwball was astonishing. "It fell off the table. I never saw a screwball like that. Even (Dodger Fernando) Valenzuela's doesn't drop like that."

Did he say anything to the umpires?

"No," said Hernandez, "and I don't want to make a big deal out of this. I saw three questionable screwballs. Whether they were screwballs or spitters I can't say. I didn't say anything at the time because I fouled all three off. So they all hit the ground and you couldn't see anything anyway."

Hernandez's teammates were less concerned about the mechanics of Caldwell's superb pitching.

"He didn't throw anything like that to me," said Ken Oberkfell, who had one of the three St. Louis hits. "It was just basic fast balls and sliders."

"Spitters?" said Manager Whitey Herzog. "You can't worry about that. You just gotta hit the dry side."

Shortstop Ozzie Smith agreed. "If the ball goes over the plate you have to hit it."

Hernandez was responsible for the Brewers' quick 2-0 lead as he let a line smash by Ben Oglivie shoot under his glove for an error in the first inning. Had he made the play it would have been the third out.

But with two on, the ball went through. One run scored and the Brewers went up by two when the next batter, Gorman Thomas, singled.

Starter Bob Forsch was in a hole before the Cardinals ever came to bat.

"I have no excuses on that," said Hernandez. "I missed it. I should have had it."

Herzog said Forsch, who had a three-hit shutout victory over the Atlanta Braves in the National League championship series, wasn't himself on the mound. "But if he gets out of the first inning, he might have been all right."

As it turned out, the Brewers added a run in the fourth inning on Paul Molitor's RBI single, one of a World Series record five hits by Molitor, made it 4-0 in the fifth on Ted Simmons' homer and clinched the game in the sixth with two runs when Jim Gantner and Molitor singled and Robin Yount doubled both home.

"That was the ball game," said Herzog. And only then did he remove Forsch. Why wait so long?

"Up to the sixth, he had only given up two earned runs," said Herzog. "I thought he might straighten himself out. Then in the sixth everything happened with two outs. So I didn't have a guy warmed up."

And that was it. After the sixth Herzog turned the game over to seldom-used relievers Jim Kaat, Dave LaPoint and Jeff Lahti, simply to get them some work.

"We had one base runner in the first five innings," said Herzog. "You can't win like that."

It makes Wednesday's game doubly important for the Cardinals as they strive to depart the home field with at least a split. Their hopes rest with rookie John Stuper, who must face the ace of the Brewers pitching staff, Don Sutton.

"I'm sure I'll be nervous tomorrow," said Stuper, "but that has never adversely affected my performance."

He said he will have four sources to draw from in trying to figure out how to pitch to the men from the strange league who rocked his colleagues for 17 hits tonight. "We have good scouting reports. I've watched them on TV. Darrell (catcher Porter) was in the league and he knows the hitters and (pitcher Dave) LaPoint is a good friend of mine and he was in their organization. We need any little edge we can get."