If you were Whitey Herzog, what on earth would you do? The Cardinal manager looks like he's in the catbird seat when he's really hanging on for dear life.
Everywhere he turns, he feels cornered. From strategy to PR to psychology, he seems boxed and stymied, almost bereft of choices. His St. Louis paddlewheeler is taking water fore and aft, yet he almost can touch the shore. Just one lifeboat, that's all he needs.
But where can he find one?
How often does the team that leads the World Series look, act and talk as though it were losing?
The Cardinals may be ahead of the Kansas City Royals in games, but they're down, way down, in the place where it counts most in baseball -- between the ears. The postseason is a time of streaks and catch-a-wave cockiness. Right now, the Cardinals are a club on the cusp of embarrassing collapse.
Listen to the tone of voice of the National League champions after their 6-1 loss in Game 5 cut their lead to three games to two.
"We're lucky to have won those three games," said cleanup man Jack Clark to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. " . . . If we don't start scoring some runs, we're not going to win.
"Maybe there's some runs out there somewhere for us the next couple of days. Where they are or how we get them, I don't know. All I know is we're fortunate to be where we are."
"Nobody's shut us down like this all year," said 110-RBI man Tommy Herr, hitting .222 and swinging worse. "Dang right we miss (Vince) Coleman . . . "
When your top run-producers are that far down, it's significant. Herzog has as tough a job as a manager can have. His team is hurt, nervous and worried. Its confidence is badly wounded. Yet there's not much he can do about it.
All season, Herzog has milked the underdog role, cultivating a grumpy, easily insulted streak in his players. Now, he's the clear 101-win overdog.
Herzog, who's savvy enough to peddle a stereotype if it will serve him, also likes to play his Midwest card. Running his fingers through his flattop, Herzog loves to imply that those sinful sophisticates from New York and Los Angeles don't deserve to beat the good folks in white socks from Missouri, a state he just happens to be real proud to call home.
If you can't go bass fishin' before breakfast, Whitey allows as how he hardly knows how you could survive.
Now, that motivating ploy has dried up, too. Not only is Kansas City still located in Missouri but it's the town in which Herzog lives.
Normally, Herzog might rally his troops by imploring someone to take up the slack for the injured Coleman. But how do you do that? Coleman's knee injury was his own fault. Seriously, how can you get yourself eaten by a tarp?
Herzog can't even take a pity-us tack. The Royals have lost a comparably valuable player -- Hal McRae -- through a fluke of the rules.
While the absence of McRae hurts the Royals, the loss of Coleman radically changes the Cardinals. He's not replaceable. As Herzog privately admits to friends, Coleman was the ignition that started the St. Louis engine. When you lead the NL in runs scored, despite being next to last in home runs, you're relying heavily on lineup chemistry.
At the moment, that Cardinals chemistry is history. They are no longer a swift team. Subtract Coleman's 110 steals. Subtract the 30 or more other thefts that came on the back end of double steals that he led. Subtract the 34-for-40 pilfering of Andy Van Slyke, who'll only start two Series games because he doesn't face left-handers.
What's left? A team with little power and slightly above average speed.
Ozzie Smith, swinging too hard after his power show in the playoffs, is one for 16; he makes a mediocre No. 2 hitter. Cesar Cedeno had his clutch run in September; he's one for 13 with a broken-bat hit in the Series. Don't expect anything from him.
Tito Landrum was magic for seven games as a Coleman sub. Now, his balloon has burst. In Game 5, he threw to the wrong base, misjudged and dropped a line drive, then popped up twice to end rallies, once with the bases loaded. Let's look away.
When Herzog was asked what he'd do to his .196-hitting lineup for Game 6, he said, "Darrell Porter will catch. That's the only change." So, a .111 Series hitter who bats left-handed will replace Tom Nieto, a .000 hitter, in the lineup against tough left-hander Charlie Leibrandt.
That's the sort of migraine-headache choice Herzog has faced throughout this Series. Should he start Joaquin Andujar or Bob Forsch? Neither one can has gotten anybody out this month.
The only tactical ploy Herzog could use, he chose -- sacrifice Game 3 with Forsch and give sore-armed Danny Cox five days off.
"We'll be going home a loser," said Herzog, "unless we get some hellacious pitching."
The Royals are perceived as a short-handed team, robbed of their designated hitter, who are making the best of bad times. The Cardinals are in danger of being remembered as a club that tightened up when it needed to be resourceful.
Already in this Series, Willie McGee has been: picked off first, thrown out at third on the front of a rally-killing double steal, thrown out stretching for a triple and thrown out at home trying to score from second on a wild pitch. Ozzie Smith got picked off. Jack Clark was trapped rounding second after a double and got nailed trying to stretch a single. Nieto got doubled off first on a bunt.
Not one Cardinal has been thrown out trying to steal second base, yet, when St. Louis runs, it's the Royals who cheer.
At the moment, the Royals have the home crowd, the momentum, the back-to-the-wall mystique and the knowledge that their two best pitchers -- Leibrandt and Bret Saberhagen -- are on tap.
What the Cardinals have is the lead that Kansas City Manager Dick Howser helped them get by leaving Leibrandt in to face seven hitters in the ninth inning of Game 2.
Because of that, the Cardinals have time. Time to find a hero.
Whether his name be Danny Cox or John Tudor, or some regular who suddenly discovers a one-game hot bat, he can't appear too soon to suit Whitey Herzog.
Herzog did a brilliant job of constructing the Cardinals. But now, he has little choice but to sit back and watch his badly sputtering machine as it staggers toward a finish line it may never reach.