ST. LOUIS -- Long after midnight, San Francisco Manager Roger Craig sat in his hotel room following his team's Game 6 defeat with a shot of Jack Daniel's in front of him and one lousy question on his mind: "What can a manager do when one game means everything?"

Even tougher, what can he do when, in his guts, he senses his team will probably lose that game -- that is, if he doesn't do something. Do you watch the ship sink? Or do you risk overmanaging and transmitting panic?

When Craig got to Busch Stadium yesterday, The Fox called a team meeting. A marathon one. Maybe a record before a postseason seventh game. "For 40 minutes, I told 'em, individually, how great they were -- no matter what. I told each one, in front of the whole team, what he'd contributed to us being where we were," said Craig. "I said, 'Go out. Have some fun. Play the game. See what happens. Give me what you gave me all year. That's plenty.' If there was any tension, any pressure, I wanted to remove it."

After Craig's 24 individually wrapped pep talks, only one Giant spoke. Mike Krukow. "Do me again," he begged.

Maybe Craig should have saved the "thank yous" until a day later. Did he sound like a man who smelled defeat?

Once postseason paralysis locks into place, entire batting orders freeze as though charmed by some hypnotic mesmerist. The Giants finished with 22 consecutive scoreless innings. They can ask the '79 Orioles, '85 Cardinals, '87 Blue Jays and others for explanations.

"Our swagger is our offense," said Krukow of his 205-homer mates, the longballingest Giants team ever. "I didn't believe it was possible to shut us out back-to-back." It never happened all season. These Giants got shutout once a month.

The Giants batted .141 in the series with men in scoring position and drove in only 11 runners in 118 at-bats with men on base. This night was the norm, not the exception.

The Cardinals, in a batting slump, too, had no meeting. They've been in the kitchen so often they're almost perspiration proof. "We had a two-minute players-only meeting Tuesday," said Tommy Herr. "We said, 'Let's kick their butts. If we win Game 6, it'll all be going our way in Game 7.' "

The Cardinals actually hit .333 with men in scoring position. They lacked power utterly. But they pecked out hits under the same pressure that cracked the Giants.

From Craig's perspective, these extreme times required extreme measures. After the 1-0 loss Tuesday, he pulled out every gambit. He benched Candy Maldonado, the goat of Game 6, and Robby Thompson (two for 19) in favor of Mike Aldrete and Chris Speier, the lone Giant from the 1971 playoff team. He avoided one move, leaving Eddie Milner benched so cold Chili Davis (zero RBI) could stay in center.

Also, Craig started lefty Atlee Hammaker instead of righty Krukow, who was brilliantly combative in winning Game 4. Craig thought that, without Jack Clark, the Cardinals were helpless against southpaws, so much so that he'd start a passable lefty over a righty who won 20 in '86.

Craig says he only had one shot of Jack Daniel's after Game 6. He might want more now. Could a manager have more decisions blow up in his face in one night?

The high-strung Hammaker, who was 2-8 on the road this year and who gave up a record seven runs in one-third of an inning as the '83 All-Star Game starter, allowed almost as many runs -- four -- as he got outs -- six. True, until this game, the Cardinals' six switch-hitting starters had batted .141 with one RBI. "Yeah," said Herr, "but that's because Dave Dravecky and Joe Price have pitched so well."

St. Louis switchers ate Hammaker alive. Vince Coleman, Terry Pendleton and Willie McGee singled. Then Jose Oquendo, who now has played every position this season, including executioner, hit a three-run homer -- the third homer of his career. "Are you kidding?" said Hammaker. Fans here will note the ball flew out over the Mets logo.

"With first base open, I'm surprised they didn't walk me," said Oquendo, "or at least keep the ball away, or up and in."

Hammaker's mind, as has been the case in the past, may still have been on the previous pitch. "I thought I had him struck out on a backdoor slider," said Hammaker. "I'm not saying the call bothered me, but I threw him a cut fastball inside. It ended up down the middle."

Craig's luck was uniformly awful. Aldrete and Speier were zero for seven and each killed a vital rally with a double play. Speier also failed to reach a key Tony Pena hit in the second that Thompson might have flagged. Davis went zero for four and played a fly into a hit while Milner was one for one as a pinch hitter. Of course, Oquendo wouldn't even have been in the lineup against Krukow. Is that as star-crossed as you can get?

The Cards spotted the Giants a Jack Clark, half a Willie McGee and a few broken pieces of Terry Pendleton, Greg Mathews and Danny Cox. And won. The Out of Gas Gang. "We could have folded lots of times {this year}," said Whitey Herzog. "I don't know why we're here."

Now, they've hung on to make the Giants eat a cattle car of words.

Chili Davis called St. Louis a cowtown. Will Clark never stopped boasting. Krukow talked about "stomping the last breath" out of the Cardinals. Roger Craig vowed there would only be six games. Jeffrey Leonard said . . . Oh, who cares what he said.

"To listen to 'em talk over there, we weren't supposed to even be on the field with them," said Ozzie Smith.

The last words were written on thousands of signs here tonight. No, not "Move over Giants. Us Cowtowners are sick of your bull" or even "Hey, Chili, where's the Cow Palace?"

"Humm this," the sea of placards said.