Minnesota Manager Billy Gardner says after his team's ninth consecutive loss, he went back to his hotel room in Oakland and placed a long-distance phone call to Las Vegas.

"I called to find out the odds on who would be the first to get fired, Yogi or me," Gardner said. "It was 8-5 that I was gone first."

The odds were wrong. Yogi Berra was fired by the New York Yankees, but Gardner, the man aptly called "Slick," is still around, sitting in the clubhouse shooting one-liners and explaining just how his Minnesota Twins followed that losing streak with a 10-game winning streak that finally ended with an 8-7 loss to Baltimore here Friday night.

Gardner now insists he was never really worried during the losing streak.

"Yeah, we lost nine in a row," he said. "But the starting pitching was sound. Kent Hrbek was hitting about .150. Five out of the nine were by one run. It's not like we were looking that bad."

So, what did Slick tell his players? "I told 'em go out and start a new streak."

The Twins did just that. They took the final game of a three-game set in Oakland on some timely hitting by center fielder Kirby Puckett.

Minnesota came back home to sweep three games from Seattle, four from Oakland and even two at Detroit. As Gary Gaetti, the Twins' third baseman, said Friday night: "It's incredible the way we've turned things around like this. Hey, you know what? We might even make 'This Week in Baseball.' "

Minnesota's most impressive offensive statistic: During the 10-game winning streak -- the second longest in the club's history -- the Twins hit .325 to raise their season batting average from .245 to an American League-leading .284.

Five Twins -- Puckett, Mark Salas, Tom Brunansky, Greg Gagne and Mickey Hatcher -- are hitting .300 or better.

None are household names, but Puckett, the 5-foot-8 leadoff man, might soon become one. The only thing he doesn't do is hit for power. He can hit for average (.296 as a rookie, currently at .347 while leading the league in hits and tied for second in RBI), has a great arm (league-high 16 assists last year) and can run (25 bunt singles in '84). And he's only 24.

"This kid's got the kind of instincts you almost never see," Gardner said.

Gardner winds up using the word "kid" a lot. That's because of the everyday players, only designated hitter Roy Smalley (32) and left fielder Hatcher (30) are over 30.

First baseman Hrbek, who has already played three full seasons (and averaged 97 runs batted in per year), is 25. Right fielder Brunansky, who has 80 home runs in three years, is 25. Gagne, the shortstop, is 23. Gaetti, the third baseman, is 26. And second baseman Tim Teufel (14 homers last year) is 26.

Plus, three of the starting pitchers are 28 or younger, including left-hander Frank Viola, who won 18 games last year at age 24.

Asked if he wasn't rushing things a bit by relying on so many youngsters, Gardner said, "Hell, you go to war when you're 18. This is fun. When we needed a center fielder last year (in early May), I brought up Puckett.

"They said he basically had only A-level experience. I told 'em, 'If he can do it down there he can do it up here.' Course, Kirby got four hits in his first game.

"We wanted kids who, if they lost 14 in a row, didn't break down. We wanted guys with good makeup. And they've got it. It's amazing, their approach to the game. I'm not the kind of guy, anyway, who's gonna throw bats and balls and go yelling at youngsters if we lose a few. Don't forget, too, I babysitted all these guys before, in the minors."

Gaetti says the age factor is overrated anyway "because we've already experienced the whole run of emotions. Remember, a lot of these guys were around (three years ago) when we lost 102 games. And these are the same guys who've lost 14 straight last season, but were still in a pennant race."

Now, the Twins have to guard against becoming a team of streaks, which is probably in itself a reflection of youth. The Twins were tied for first in the AL West with seven games to play last year, but lost six straight to finish the season.

Minnesota fans, remembering the excitement of September, have embraced this new team. They have been giving the Twins standing ovations before each game. It's probably easier for them to like this team that moved into the 20th Century last September when banker Carl Pohlad bought it from crusty old Calvin Griffith.

Tony Oliva, the .300 lifetime hitter who played 13 years with the greatest players this franchise has had -- Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, Rod Carew and Camilo Pascual, to name a few -- says the city will love this team like it loved the great ones in '65, '69 and '70.

"Aren't these guys good-looking?" asked Oliva, now the first-base coach and hitting instructor. "We had big names 15 years ago. Now, we're building them. And the people here appreciate that it was done from within the organization.

"I said during the nine-game losing streak that we had the best team in our division. I went in one day and told them it's better to have a losing streak now than in September."

What the Twins don't seem to have right now are a reliable fifth starter (if necessary), a healthy, experienced catcher or a strong bullpen, which Gardner admits is his biggest concern.

The power is far above average, considering the Twins play in a building that seems to be the American League's answer to the "Launching Pad" in Atlanta.

"They seem built for this park," Baltimore's Cal Ripken said. "They know their park and take advantage of everything it has to offer."

"You see these kids? They're having fun," said Gardner, who's having fun himself this season with his own new television show. "They're not talking pennant or anything. But they know what they're capable of doing."