"I never dreamed I'd be playing as big a role as I am now."

-- Tito Landrum, St. Louis Cardinals

"The game sometimes can get you frustrated." -- Frank White, Kansas City Royals

They share the virtues that would be etched deeply if baseball, like its bats, had a trademark. They are separated by the experiences that make baseball close to unique among sports.

For the day-to-day competence that makes a career satisfying, Tito Landrum might wish he were Frank White; for the brief and stunning moments that make a career complete, Frank White might like to be Tito Landrum.

In Landrum's four-plus seasons in the majors, he has only a few more at bats than White usually gets in one. Yet Landrum seems destined for his third World Series ring, perhaps as most valuable player.

Landrum Luck is being with the proper team in the proper moment of the proper season, and then being able to orbit a ball with your bat to win a game and rifle it into the catcher's mitt from afar with your arm to save another.

As part of one of those curious baseball trades friends make with friends, Landrum found himself with Baltimore for the final month of the 1983 season. He batted 53 times for the Orioles, but won the American League pennant for them with a 10th-inning homer off Britt Burns in Game 4 of the series with the White Sox.

That was a season after Landrum was part of the Cardinals team that won the World Series, though he was repromoted from the minors too late for any of the playoffs.

Last week, Landrum happened to be standing out of harm's way when Vince Coleman wasn't.

With Coleman out of the Series, you know who one of the St. Louis stars has been: Coleman's caddy, Terry Lee Landrum, called Tito because of his resemblance to one of The Jackson Five.

In six National League playoff games, Landrum was six for 14, with four runs scored, four RBI and a stolen base; in the three World Series games, he is five for 11, with two runs scored and an important assist from left.

Perhaps the baseball gods whisper to Landrum: "For a lot of reasons, you haven't gotten to play as much as your talent merits. We're hoping this makes up for the down times."

Landrum senses something extraordinary.

"I'm blessed," he said. "Yes."

The tip-of-the-bat double that continued the Cardinals' ninth-inning rally for victory in Game 2 Sunday was as homely as they come. The ball probably didn't want to get hurt bouncing off the stands foul, so it stayed fair by a foot or so.

Landrum's peg to nip Buddy Biancalana at the plate in the seventh had been on a considerably tighter line.

Of the remarkable rookie he has replaced, some are saying: "Vince who?"

Correctly, Landrum thought his postseason role would be "watching, with maybe some pinch-hitting and time in the outfield for defense."

An uncommon amount of good fortune allowed Landrum to rise to the big leagues at all. As he intervened in a domestic squabble nine years ago, his right elbow went through a plate-glass window.

"It severed all the muscles under my right arm," he recalled. "My life passed in front of me. I asked the doctor if he could repair my arm so that I could throw again, and he said he could. As I said, I've been blessed from day one."

White has been blessed in a way Landrum might envy. There was nobody skilled enough to keep him mired in the minors for the Royals in the early '70s.

Like Landrum, White attended a high school that did not field a baseball team. At a Royals academy designed to mold exceptional athletes into baseball players, he was the first to be invited to train.

In 12 years, White has won six Gold Gloves and hit everywhere in the lineup, top of the order to bottom. He is the only second baseman since Jackie Robinson to bat cleanup in the World Series -- and the rare cleanup hitter who might bunt his way on.

"Whatever works," he shrugged. "Bunt. Hit-and-run. I just play the game. We don't have any special spots in our lineup after one-two-three. After (George) Brett, it's grab-bag, pull a name out of the hat."

It's surprising the pitty-pat Royals averaged nearly a home run a game during the season. Scarcely more than a light heavyweight, White socked 22 homers, 15 of which tied a game or put the Royals ahead.

"That was my goal," he said of his increased power, "to average maybe three homers a month, and to make two of those mean something."

White has been an all-star four times; with a .545 average, one homer, three RBI and three runs scored, he was MVP of the 1980 AL playoffs.

He also is ringless. Six times his Royals have been to the playoffs; only twice have they advanced to the Series. They lost to the Phillies in 1980, with White going two for 25.

Maybe the baseball gods tell White: "We've favored you over the long haul. It's time others were touched, just once."

White accepts whatever happens with a veteran's patience: "I've still been very fortunate." Trying to be up despite being down 0-2 in games, White admitted that defeat tonight would be "like being in a well with no rope."

With a two-run homer and run-scoring double, White provided the rope. Only in sport must you throw yourself a lifeline.