The Kansas City Royals played quite well tonight in the first game of the World Series. That's the really bad news.

When you do a lot right, not much wrong, and still lose at home in fairly sleepy fashion, 3-1, to the St. Louis Cardinals, it raises the specter that the future may not be terribly bright.

The Cardinals, with injured left fielder and leadoff hitter Vince Coleman still out of the lineup and winning pitcher John Tudor off his game, were far from their best, yet were considerably more than good enough.

The Cardinals' offense didn't terrify anybody this cool night. One run scored on Willie McGee's soft groundout, another on a shattered-bat double by Cesar Cedeno and the third when Royals left fielder Lonnie Smith turned his back on Jack Clark's liner, which nearly conked him in the head.

Except for tickled-pink rookie reliever Todd Worrell, who had a seven-out save, the Cardinals seemed almost bored and a bit embarrassed by their victory.

"Takin' nothing away from them, I didn't have my good stuff or my control tonight," said Tudor, who's 22-2 since June 1. If the Royals get one run of Tudor when he's not at his best, what happens if he's ever sharp?

Kansas City made a half-dozen fine defensive plays, including a spectacular center fielder Willie Wilson-to-second baseman Frank White-to-third baseman George Brett relay to nip McGee going for a triple. Rookie starter Danny Jackson allowed only four hits in seven innings. In fact, Royals Manager Dick Howser flatly insisted that, despite a suicide squeeze botched by Buddy Biancalana and a couple of other hairy plays, "I would not say we messed up our execution on anything."

More than that, the Royals had chances to score. But, as many feared, they lacked a solidly hit ball in the clutch.

Wilson chased a first-pitch bad-ball and popped out with the bases loaded in the seventh off Worrell. "You'd like to have him chase that pitch, and he did," said Worrell, who was converted to a reliever three months and a day ago in the minors.

Leadoff doubles in the Royals' fourth and ninth came to nothing. Smith opened an inning with a single, then fell down three times as he was picked off and pursued. Only an RBI single by Steve Balboni in the second inning averted a shutout for the weak-hitting Royals.

Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog, asked if he was surprised at the Royals' "aggressiveness," was perplexed. "I don't think they played that aggressive," he said. "They only scored one run."

The Cardinals only needed one good break in this first installment of the Show Me Showdown, and they got it. On the second pitch of the eighth inning, Worrell "really choked one off and threw a fast ball down the middle of the plate to Brett."

Almost everyone in the park, including Worrell, Brett and right fielder Andy Van Slyke, thought that the game would be tied, 2-2, by a home run.

"It was the opposite of what happened in Game 6 (of the National League Championship Series) against the Dodgers," said Worrell. "Then, I thought Mike Marshall's (home run) was a routine fly . . . This time, I thought Brett's ball was gone . . . Luckily, he just missed it, probably got it on the end of the bat."

Van Slyke made a leaping catch near the wall.

Before minimizing the Royals' chances, it should, perhaps, be remembered that the spotted the Toronto Blue Jays a two-game lead in the American League Championship Series.

The Cardinals reported that their Game 2 starter, Danny Cox (18-9), feels perfect and has no elbow soreness. The Royals will counter at 8:35 Sunday night with Charlie Leibrandt (17-9).

To be sure, the Cardinals had their moments tonight. No sooner had the Royals scored in the second on a walk to Jim Sundberg and sharp singles to left by Darryl Motley and Balboni than St. Louis answered with a run in the third. Terry Pendleton walked, Darrell Porter singled him to third and, with one out and the infield back, McGee drove home Pendleton with a humble tap to second.

The Cardinals got their winning run in the fourth on back-to-back one-out double by Tito Landrum and Cedeno. Landrum, who's playing so well that Herzog seems in no hurry to put Coleman (sore knee) back in the lineup, sliced a ball over first base and narrowly beat right fielder Motley's peg to second.

Cedeno's "game-winning RBI" had a bit of touching quality about it. As he stepped to the plate, the scoreboard pointed out that he had 2,069 major league hits. None, however, was in a World Series because Cedeno hadn't been in one.

Once, Leo Durocher predicted that Cedeno would be a reasonable approximation of Willie Mays. Despite a good career, nothing like that ever happened. This night, he did get a break. Cedeno's big-barreled, thin-handled bat snapped in half as he hit a liner over Brett's head.

As the ball landed fair by a yard and Landrum headed home, the meat of the bat rolled to a stop at Brett's feet. You wouldn't think a team as good as the 101-victory Cardinals would stoop to good fortune to beat a rival from their own state. But ya never know.

With men at the corners and one out in the Royals' second inning, Biancalana got a decent low-and-away fast ball to bunt on a suicide squeeze, yet he didn't touch the ball. Motley was run down easily between third and home. "I should have fouled it off or something . . . at least," said the journeyman with 58 career hits, who's already been nationally razzed about his "pursuit of Pete Rose" by comic David Letterman. Now, perhaps, Biancalana's bunting will be ridiculed.

The Cardinals also dodged a bullet on a fine defensive play by third baseman Pendleton in the fourth. With a man on third and one out, Balboni hit a foul pop down the left field line. Sundberg wisely tried to score as Pendleton made a first-rate, over-the-shoulder, running catch. On the other hand, Pendleton wisely threw Sundberg out at home by 10 feet.

Sundberg probably was smart to take the risk because weak-hitting Biancalana was on deck. Pendleton was smart to make the catch and risk Sundberg tagging up because, on his last couple of strides, he'd come under control and could wheel and throw quickly.

The final verdict this evening was that the Royals couldn't solve either Tudor or Worrell.

"Tudor struggled and battled," said Herzog, who pulled him after 102 pitches with men at the corners and two outs in the seventh. Worrell immediately walked Lonnie Smith to load the bases, then got Wilson on that foul fly that Landrum snagged at full speed.

"It all seems like a dream sometimes," said Worrell. "I wonder if I'm awake."

On July 18, Worrell was transformed from a struggling, disappointing starting pitcher who'd studied at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles into a reliever. Talk about miracles. After 11 saves and three wins in the minors, Herzog called him up Aug. 27 and Worrell has saved seven and won three.

In fact, nothing bad ever has happened to Worrell in relief. No losses. No blown leads. Perfect success. Of course, a 93 mph fast ball helps.

This season, the Cardinals have an 83-1 record when they lead entering the eighth inning. When Tommy Herr singled to open the ninth and Clark followed with his RBI double to left for a 3-1 score, the Cardinals' lead looked ironclad.

Perhaps the Royals' performance tonight presages a quality World Series for Kansas City supporters. Howser, naturally, thought so. He saw Jackson's work as a harbinger that his good young pitchers would drive the Cardinals crazy.

The other possibility is not so comforting for the Royals. When you play pretty good and the other guys play pretty poor and they win pretty easy, what does good old Missouri common sense tell you?