The mammoth St. Louis Cardinal emblem that dominates the right field scoreboard in Busch Stadium sits a nice, safe 500 feet from home plate.

The resident Cardinals would need about three chop hits, a couple of bunts and a healthy sacrifice fly to reach it.

Darryl Strawberry needs one swing.

In the 11th inning of a scoreless game that could, with ease, bear the weight of any superlative applied to it, the 6-foot-5 Strawberry hit a curve ball from relief pitcher Ken Dayley off the base of that Cardinals sign, just where it meets the stadium clock that said 10:44 p.m. at the time.

Only the future will tell if the clock really began tolling another time for the stunned Cardinals this evening.

Midnight, perhaps?

It's probably too soon for such thoughts, though the Mets welcomed all the symbolism that could be derived from a game they won despite 10 shutout innings from Cardinals ace John Tudor.

This 1-0 Mets victory only pared the St. Louis lead in the National League East to two games with five to play. Much more Met damage must be done before this perishable classic-written-on-water becomes more than a pennant-race footnote. The Cardinals' magic number is a mere four.

One factor, however, lends extra weight to this night's doings.

Dwight Gooden pitches here Wednesday for the Mets. Perhaps word of him has reached you. "They've used their best pitcher," said Mets Manager Dave Johnson, "and I haven't used mine."

The Cardinals also have someone scheduled to throw for them. Joaquin Andujar, the only man in baseball who has won 20 games each of the last two seasons. However, as Johnson pointed out, Andujar "has always been a first-half pitcher who's had a tough time in his last 10 starts. Last time against us, in New York, he didn't last two innings."

Tudor deserved a Croix de Guerre, not a No Decision. "He probably could have gone 19 innings," said Mets catcher Gary Carter, "he was so tough."

With just one supporting run, Tudor (20-8 overall, 19-1 since June 1), could have tied Sandy Koufax's major league record for left-handed pitchers with 11 shutouts in a season. He already had shut out the Mets twice this year, including a 1-0 win in 10 innings 20 days ago.

Perhaps the Mets' real hero was the swarthy Hawaiian-Chinese intellectual from Yale -- Ron Darling -- who pitched "the greatest game of my life, by far."

His nine shutout innings were marred only by his whiffing a suicide squeeze bunt with men on second and third and one out in the seventh inning -- ruining the best Mets rally of the night. That's why they call it the suicide squeeze.

"Darling's underrated because we have another guy (Gooden) on this staff who takes the headlines away from him," said Carter after Darling had kept any Cardinal from reaching third base. "He's been toughest in our biggest games."

"We've got a long way to go, but we've gotten over the biggest hill," said Darling, who added, admiringly, "That thing Strawberry hit was just one of those natural home runs. You just keep watching and watching to see where it will land."

For one tremulous moment in the Cardinals 10th inning, it seemed this game might be an eerie duplicate of Tudor's 1-0 win at Shea Stadium. Then, Gooden went nine innings before Jesse Orosco gave up a home run in the 10th to Cesar Cedeno. This time, Orosco arrived in the 10th and walked pinch-hitter Cedeno, who stole second.

The standing room crowd was in full bellow and even Mets catcher Carter admitted, "I was thinking, 'Ditto.' "

Orosco pitched to Ozzie Smith with first base open, fearing potential pinch hitter Jack Clark, who was in the on-deck circle. Last week, Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog declared Clark "out for the season." Was he bluffing?

Orosco fanned Smith. Herzog pulled Clark back to the dugout and sent up Tito Landrum to hit for Tudor. And the Mets took the bait. They figured Clark was still hurt and walked Landrum intentionally.

And who comes out of the dugout but Clark. After two screaming line drive fouls, he flied to right.

Suddenly, that fantasy Cardinals script had to be put on hold. Tudor, now out of the game, had lost his chance at a shutout, a win and a share of Koufax's record. What a downer.

On came Dayley in the top of the 11th. When he fanned both Keith Hernandez and Carter, the heart of the Mets attack, he seemed to have resumed Tudor's work nicely.

But the hook he dealt Strawberry on 1-1 never reached home plate.

"That's one of the longest I've ever hit," said Strawberry of his 28th homer, which went over and beyond the 383-foot sign by more than 100 feet.

"I didn't even look to see where it went," said Dayley. His opinion was shared by the entire Cardinals team, which studiously avoided taking any downrange sightings.

"If there's a better matchup in baseball than these two teams, I'd like to see it," said Carter, in the wake of the fourth straight classic one-run game between these teams. "You're not going to see any finer baseball than that."

Most teams say that a one-run defeat is harder to take than a slaughter, and that a 1-0 loss in extra innings is the hardest blow to the collective solar plexus that baseball provides.

"I hope that's true," said the Mets' Johnson, laughing. "That's enough psychological downer. Now, let's just go ahead and blow 'em out."