MINNEAPOLIS -- So, who's going to go around St. Louis like a bounty hunter Tuesday afternoon and drag all the Cardinals out from under their beds and bring them to Busch Stadium at gunpoint? This looks like a job for Manhunter.

They say everything's happened before and, in this case it, has. Not that historical detail will make the Cardinals less mortified or the Minnesota Twins less euphoric. Since 1903, only one team in World Series history has gotten beaten worse in the first two games of the Classic than St. Louis has the last two nights, by a combined score of 18-5. Fifty years ago, the Yankees of Joe DiMaggio introduced themselves to the Giants 8-1 and 8-1 before gliding to a five-game title.

The best suggestion so far for reviving mass interest in this affair is a special dispensation from Peter Ueberroth to remove the fourth inning from all future Series games. "When I go to the track tomorrow, I'm going to bet on number four," said Twins Manager Tom Kelly after watching his team have seven- and six-run explosions in that inning.

Recent events have been a shock and test of character for Minnesotans, too. They are constitutionally unsuited to such unadulterated pleasure. It goes against the German and Scandinavian roots that permeate this region so deeply. It's said that Minnesotans greet all human experience with one of three expressions. "You betcha" covers everything that's good or not too bad. If the neighbor buys a 30-foot python as a pet or the boss arrives at work in leather and chains, they say, "That's different." And if the python eats the house, or the boss burns the factory, the Minnesotan says, "Whatever."

Even the bedsheet signs here reflect these attitudes. "Pinch Me." "Is This Great or What?" "Wanted: Homer Hankie -- Will Swap Four Vikings Season Tickets."

For something bad to happen to the Twins at this point might require federal emergency aid and perhaps the Missouri national guard. Two days ago, the Cardinals were without Jack Clark. Now, they've been deprived of their illusions, too. The Fab Four, as Kirby Puckett, Gary Gaetti, Kent Hrbek and Tom Brunansky are called, are, in fact, as good as billed. The Cardinals heard the Twins had lousy pitching, except for Frank Viola, Bert Blyleven and Jeff Reardon. That didn't sound so bad. Now, after getting three runs in 16 innings off them, it doesn't sound so good.

Between now and Game 3, pundits will point out that nine of the last 15 teams that took a two-games-to-none lead in the Series have gone on to lose. They'll also vow that John Tudor is an overmatch against Les Straker, so we might as well proceed to Game 4 with the count at two-games-to-one.

Not so fast. The Cardinals must now face the same terrible thought as the Tigers. If they win two games at home, their reward is a return visit to this asylum. What we have here is a full-scale phenomenon and the Twins are caught in the vortex of it, being carried along.

"The thing people don't know is how recently all this has come together," said Roy Smalley, who's played here for all or parts of 10 seasons.

The first step came in late August. "We'd fallen out of first place {by percentage points} behind Oakland and the A's were coming in here for four games," said Randy Bush. "Kelly called a team meeting and, basically, he said, 'You guys have to prove to me that you have the heart to play in a pennant race.' We swept 'em and, since then, we've known that this club has what it takes."

The next development didn't happen until Sept. 27. "We're in first place. Our magic number is going down from 10 to 2, and nobody's coming to the games," said Smalley. "We played nine home games in September and averaged less than 20,000. Never even 24,000. I'm saying to myself, 'What's wrong with these people. Do they care?' "

That's right. Twenty-four days ago the whole concept of Thunderdome and Homer Hankies didn't exist. The Twins' home field advantage hadn't been born. Then, the Royals came to town and 150,000 fans arrived in three days. The Twins lost the first two. "The media was already burying us as chokers," said Smalley. "Before the Sunday game, the crowd gave us a five-minute standing ovation and we scored five runs in the first inning. That's the day it started." Yes, Sept. 27.

"It's hard to imagine the intensity out there," says Bush. "They electrify us. How are we even going to be able to get up for meaningless spring training games after this?"

Right now, the Twins are a team with no one who is familiar. This entire season they only had back-to-back wins this lopsided on two occasions. The Cardinals don't know that. They're muttering, "Who are these guys?" "I don't know if we can beat Frank Viola," says Manager Whitey Herzog. "This Minnesota club's hot right now. It's going to take a helluva pitching performance to slow them down."

To say the Cardinals have been rattled here would be mild. Some of the mistakes are subtle, but crucial. Danny Cox, ahead of Gaetti 0-1, hung a curve in the center of the plate for a homer. Ahead of Randy Bush with the bases loaded, he did it again -- a killing mistake for a two-run double. "I'd seen five pitches in the World Series in my life and they'd all been strikes. I was just trying to get myself together and he hung an off-speed pitch right down the middle."

The Twins still maintain a healthy respect for the Cardinals -- when the games are in St. Louis. "We're on a mission," said Gaetti. "At least in the Dome . . . They'll have the edge at their place."

Right now, Minnesota and its team are saying, "You betcha." More than 20 years of murmuring baseball "whatevers" seem a thousand miles away.