Manager Whitey Herzog knew exactly what to do. Bob Forsch, once the ace of the Cardinals staff but now only a fifth starter/long relief man, had just pitched a three-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies, enabling St. Louis to win, 7-0, in front of 17,354 at Veterans Stadium.

"We're gonna pitch him Monday -- definitely," said Herzog, whose team remained atop the National League by two games over the New York Mets, who beat the Chicago Cubs tonight, 4-2.

The Cardinals have won seven in a row, and, as second baseman Tommy Herr said, "We're playing hard every day and it's a good time to get into a streak like that."

For Forsch (8-6), it was just plain fun.

"It was just a matter of getting the opportunity, and I hope I can continue," Forsch said. "I was able to hit the corners, which is what I have to do. I don't have a Dwight Gooden fast ball, and if I put it down the middle, they're gonna smack it."

Forsch, 35, is in his 11th full major league season, and the last few years have not been the most pleasant of his career. He won 20 games in 1977, and when the Cardinals won the 1982 World Series, Forsch tied Joaquin Andujar for the team lead in wins with 15. Though Forsch lost two World Series games to the Brewers, he did shut out the Atlanta Braves in the first game of the league championship series. But since then, except for occasional flashes, he has been very mediocre.

In 1983, Forsch was pushed out of the rotation for the first time in his career, but he also threw a no-hitter (Sept. 26 in Montreal). Tonight, he pitched his first shutout since that no-hitter. If 1983 was not productive (10-12), '84 was painful. Forsch appeared in only 16 games, in part due to a back injury that required surgery.

Herzog told him in spring training what his role would be, and, though he wishes he was starting every fourth or fifth day, he's made the adjustment to his new job.

"Last year seems a little far away," Forsch said. "We have so many good young pitchers that I still don't feel confident of me staying here next year. But I'm gonna have a good time while I'm here."

It is easy to have a good time these days playing with the people Forsch has as teammates. Herr drove in three runs to raise his RBI total to 99. Vince Coleman stole his 99th base of the season, getting two hits, a walk and a run scored.

Willie McGee, the league's leading hitter, especially likes Phillies pitching. McGee, batting .439 against Philadelphia this season, had three hits. He also scored twice and drove in Coleman for the Cardinals' third run.

St. Louis' Darrell Porter hit his 10th homer of the year, a one-run shot to right field in the sixth inning to make the score 4-0. The Cardinals scored three more in the seventh on singles by Coleman, McGee, Herr and Andy Van Slyke. McGee's hit knocked out Phillies starter and loser John Denny (11-12).

But the first run, scored in the second by Cesar Cedeno, was all that Forsch needed. Aside from Coleman's three-base error on a fly ball by Mike Schmidt in the ninth, the Cardinals played solid defense behind Forsch.

"When you get a lot of guys pulling the wagon," Forsch said, "you can drag it an awful long way."

The Cardinals' wagon could make it to the playoffs despite the recent absence of first baseman Jack Clark.

The Cardinals will get Clark (rib cage injury) back for Thursday's game, but the team has done well without him. "I didn't think we had the mentality to panic when we lost him," Herr said. "We certainly want him back, but good teams have to absorb injuries."

The Phillies announced today that Steve Carlton, the four-time Cy Young Award winner, will not pitch for the rest of the season because of a strained rotator cuff. He has a 1-8 record.