Before explaining why the dearly beloved Cardinals are in such straits, let's listen to Tommy Lasorda. This was last week in the lobby of a spiffy hotel here, not far from that stainless steel rainbow they call the St. Louis Arch. It's 630 feet high. Somebody says to the Dodger manager, "That guy who climbs buildings, the Spiderman, he ought to go up that thing and parachute off. Be a great show."

"There's been plenty of times I've wanted to do it," Lasorda says. It isn't easy figuring out when to change pitchers. It isn't easy, either, figuring out who to send up as pinch hitter when you know your best pinch hitter couldn't hit his face with his fork at 2 that morning.

"So I come down to the coffee shop," Lasorda says by way of explaining how come managers think of leaping off tall things. "And there's my pinch hitter, stone-dead drunk. He's got a steak on his plate, but he's falling face down into it. What do I do?

"I take his knife and fork and start cutting the steak for him. And I'm feeding it to him, like a baby. And I'm thinking, 'What if somebody sees this? A major league baseball manager cutting up a steak and feeding it to a major league baseball player at 2 in the morning in a coffee shop.'

"That night, we're down, 2-1, in the eighth inning with two guys on base. I say to my pinch hitter, 'Get a bat.' As he comes by, I stop him. I whisper in his ear, 'Remember who cut your steak last night.' Bang, he gets a double, we win the game."

As events have proven, even a manager wise enough to feed his pinch hitters can be foolish enough to say what at least one old Cardinal fan (blush) believed to be gospel, "The Cardinals will win. They're great defensively, they've got Bruce Sutter and they'll run the Brewers to death. The Cardinals in six games."

The best the Cardinals can do in six games now is get even. They are down, 3-2. Any way you cut it, the Milwaukee Brewers have them in a dizzy spin. "It's really simple," said St. Louis shortstop Ozzie Smith today. "Either we win them both or our season is over." And so far, the Cardinals' defense, speed and Sutter have been largely ineffective.

If the Cardinals win this World Series, they will do it with a rookie pitcher and a pitcher who was carried off the field during Game 3. The rookie, John Stuper, lasted four innings in Game 2. He gave up six hits, walked three and threw two wild pitches. He will start Game 6 Tuesday night. Joaquin Andujar is said to be able to pitch Game 7, but ask this: would you feel confident with a last-game pitcher who spent two days on crutches after a one-bouncer hit him below the knee five days earlier?

Against these lame and halt, Milwaukee comes with Don Sutton and Pete Vuckovich, who, while mediocre in their Series pitching work, profit so from comparison that they seem invincible.

What's going on here is that Lasorda and all the old Cardinal fans (those pretty birds perched on a baseball bat still make the St. Louis uniform the standard others can only aspire to) have been betrayed in this World Series. Those ain't Cardinals; they are -- what? -- grimy sparrows in redbirds' union suits.

First inning, first game.

Milwaukee has two runners on, two outs.

A Brewer hits a two-bouncer toward first baseman Keith Hernandez.

Piece of cake for the Gold Glover, right?

"It was hit hard," Hernandez said later, "and I just didn't get down to it."



Hernandez' first-inning error set up two Milwaukee runs. It is not a good thing to start a World Series with your best fielder kicking away two runs. These things can be contagious. Before you knew it, the Cardinals lost that game, 10-0, and were behind, 3-0, in the second game. Somewhere some statistician knows, but ask this: has a team ever given up 13 straight runs and won a World Series?

"Milwaukee has taken advantage of mistakes," said Ozzie Smith (who, at .188, is a hitting mistake.)

By losing the home opener, the Cardinals were in a hole even after Milwaukee allowed them to steal Game 2. A victory in Game 3 at Milwaukee, when Andujar was overpowering for six innings, gave the Cardinals the lever by which to move this World Series. Only, they couldn't find a place to put the lever.

Four runs ahead in Game 4, Manager Whitey Herzog didn't use reliever Bruce Sutter to stop a Milwaukee rally clearly labeled "Danger Ahead." Soon enough, Milwaukee had won. And then followed a victory in Game 5, a victory foreshadowed in the first inning again when pitcher Bob Forsch threw away a pickoff throw, setting up a gift run.

Where Ken Oberkfell twice couldn't make defensive plays at third base, Paul Molitor has made three critical plays. What Hernandez hasn't done with his glove, Cecil Cooper has. The Cardinals have given the Brewers nine unearned runs; the Brewers have given away three unearned runs.

"They've done all the things they've needed to do to win," Ozzie Smith said. And Hernandez said, "We haven't made the plays. They have."

And the Brewers have hit better. The Brewers' 1-2 hitters in the lineup, Molitor and Robin Yount, are 19 for 44, .432. The Cardinals' one-two men are 8 for 38, .211. With runners in scoring position and two out -- a key measure of performance when it matters -- the Brewers have 14 hits in 31 at bats, .452. St. Louis is good, .381 on eight of 21, but only being good in the World Series can make you want to jump off things.