A crowd of 34,274, largest at Veterans Stadium this season, came to salute left-hander Steve Carlton tonight as he became baseball's all-time strikeout leader.

Before that formality could be completed--Carlton needed only two and had them by the third inning--George Hendrick hit a two-run homer that was enough for the world champion St. Louis Cardinals to beat Carlton and the Philadelphia Phillies, 2-1.

Thus ended round one of what figures to be a season-long struggle between Carlton and Nolan Ryan of the Astros, who was also pitching tonight. But Ryan, just off the disabled list, lasted for only three strikeouts and five innings, so Carlton's six put him ahead--3,526 to 3,524.

St. Louis right-hander Bob Forsch permitted only two men to reach first base and did not need to stretch for a base runner until the eighth inning as he used a hard slider to complete a two-hitter.

But if the folks were pleased when attendant Jack Halpin reached down and changed the "Lefty's K's" figure to a record 3,522 on the signboard in left field, they showed no appreciation for Forsch's two-hitter.

Instead, they booed the home team, which is now hitting .230. They were particularly displeased with Pete Rose after his third of four infield outs left unchanged "Pete's Count" at 3,910 on the board near the totals of "Lefty's K's" and "Nolan Ryan"; with Von Hayes after he popped up on a bunt attempt in the eighth, with Joe Morgan when he fouled out in the ninth and with Rose again when he ended it after a brisk 1 hour 57 minutes.

Carlton might have felt like booing his teammates himself. His last time out, they managed only one hit against Bob Welch of Los Angeles.

Carlton received a standing ovation in the third inning when Lonnie Smith lunged at an outside 2-2 pitch and Bo Diaz held the foul tip for Carlton's record 3,522nd. The ritual was repeated--cap tipped, ball preserved. It hardly matched the excitement of Rose's 3,631st hit, which also came here against the Cardinals.

"Every time we come in here somebody's going for something," Forsch said. "The only thing that's bothersome is Carlton's pitching--you know you won't get many runs. And it seems like every time I'm coming to town, I'm pitching against him."

The last time, in September, Forsch threw a three-hitter, but dropped a 2-0 decision when Carlton hit a homer.

Carlton took a 35-10 record against St. Louis--22-3 at the Vet--into this game. He retired the first two batters before Keith Hernandez lined a single to left center. George Hendrick then put Carlton's first pitch, a hanging slider, into the seats beyond the 371-foot sign in left center, a ball hit so decisively that left fielder Gary Matthews never moved.

In the second, Mike Ramsey looked at a 2-2 changeup for the strikeout that enabled Carlton to tie Ryan at 3,521. About half the fans stood, most applauded and Carlton tipped his cap while umpire Doug Harvey obtained the baseball for posterity.

Mike Schmidt, the Phillies' first batter in the bottom half, sent one of Forsch's sliders over the fence in left to make it 2-1. The only other runner to reach first was Diaz, on a scratch single off third baseman Ramsey's glove to open the eighth. Bob Dernier, a pinch runner, got as far as third, but that was the Philadelphia offense.

"That's the best Forschie has thrown the ball in a long time, better velocity wise than in the playoff game shutout," said Cardinal Manager Whitey Herzog, smiling as St. Louis moved two games ahead of Montreal and 5 1/2 in front of the Phillies.

In the Philadelphia dressing room, Carlton's silence set the tone of the conversation.

For all the pomp and circumstance, this was a sad night for a team that on Monday held a confused press briefing in which Manager Pat Corrales was given a hesitant vote of confidence. Before tonight's game, pitcher Larry Christenson said he was going on the disabled list because of unbearable pain in his pitching elbow. The starter for Thursday night is "undecided."