SAN FRANCISCO, OCT. 11 -- This was going to be Joe Price's last shot at the major leagues. After seven mediocre seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, one spectacular elbow operation and three months at the start of this season riding buses through the minor leagues, Price was ready to quit.

Today, after choking the St. Louis Cardinals for five shutout innings in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, Price was fantasizing World Series shutouts.

And he wanted to thank the Candlestick Curse.

"It might just be a mental thing, but my curveball seems to break real well here," said the 6-foot-4, 215-pound left-hander who used a devilish wind today to strike out six Cardinals, four times to end innings.

The same ill wind that carried Jeffrey Leonard's home run out of this home run hitters' park Saturday, blew beach balls, hot dog wrappers and small sand storms across the field today. By the time the wind died down, the Cardinals had been blown away and Price was chewing on his first bite of stardom.

"Joe, what was your biggest moment in baseball before today?" he was asked.

"Uhhh . . . "

Price won only two games this season for San Francisco after the Giants rescued him from Class AAA Phoenix in July. He pitched well, posting earned run averages of 2.89 in July and 2.70 in August. But with pitchers Dave Dravecky, Rick Reuschel, Don Robinson and Craig Lefferts all picked up in trades at about the same time, Price could have missed the team bus and no one would have noticed.

"I didn't use him much," said Giants Manager Roger Craig. "I know I didn't give him much of a chance in spring training. But today . . . he just came in and slammed the door."

St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog was just as impressed, if not as delighted, by Price's performance.

"I can't say enough about Price. He came in and looked like {Hall of Famer} Rube Waddell," said Herzog.

For much of this game, it looked as if Rube Goldberg was orchestrating the play. Outfielders collided, and fly balls changed directions in mid-flight. The team with the speed, the Cardinals, couldn't buy a stolen base, while the Giants, who would rather hit and run than practice outright larceny, seemed to have hypnotized the Cardinals' pitchers.

And Leonard, the Giants' outfielder who carried the team with four home runs in the first four games, looked as if he wasn't sure exactly where to hold his bat.

On the fifth day, Leonard rested, going zero for four with a strikeout.

With Leonard recharging, third baseman Kevin Mitchell, another player obtained by the Giants in a July trade, awoke from his playoff trance.

Mitchell, who came into the game batting .222 in the postseason, singled in Robby Thompson to tie the score, 1-1, in the first. In the third, he tied the game again at 2-2, this time with a home run to left field.

During the first four innings, there had been nine runs scored and the Cardinals had given up three leads. There were so many men on base it looked like a preseason clinic. Surely both teams would hit double figures.

Then Price arrived from the bullpen. And with him, a gusting wind.

At noon today, the wind on the playing field at Candlestick was clocked at 6 mph. By the start of the fifth inning, it was gusting to 25 mph.

"I don't know how much the wind actually helps me. But I know my curveball breaks a lot better here than in the Astrodome," said Price, who is one of the quietest members of this Giants team and handsome enough to do after shave commercials.

If there was any consolation for the Cardinals today, it was the certainty that they would not have to return to this park, which Herzog has called "a toilet with the top up."

The natural grass, which Cardinals pitcher Joe Magrane complained was "high enough for grazing," slowed their chop-hitting offense. The well-watered basepaths mired their foot speed.

And the wind, which blew pitcher Stu Miller off the mound at the first 1961 All-Star Game and might have helped Joe Price look like Cy Young, will only haunt them again this year in their dreams.