ST. LOUIS, OCT. 22 -- They are not a classic team, but they play classic baseball. They are not a powerhouse team, but they've compiled powerhouse results. They are not awesome, but from New York to San Francisco their results have been awesome.

The St. Louis Cardinals took one more step toward a World Series championship tonight as Danny Cox pitched 7 1/3 fine innings and Curt Ford singled in two sixth-inning runs for a 4-2 victory over Minnesota before 55,347.

So after getting blitzed, 18-5, in Games 1 and 2, the Cardinals brought the Twins to Busch Stadium this week for three games and introduced them to a spacious outfield, to the game's most resourceful lineup and arguably to the best pitching staff on earth.

The Cardinals not only beat the Twins three straight games here, they folded them up and stuffed them in a laundry sack, outscoring them by 14-5 and stealing eight bases, allowing one home run and changing the World Series physically if not psychologically.

The Cardinals have gone from an 0-2 deficit to a 3-2 lead and can clinch the championship Saturday afternoon when their ace, John Tudor, goes against rookie es Straker in Game 6 in the Metrodome.

The up side for the Cardinals is that they've bounced back. The down side is that they have to win a game in the Metrodome. So far, the home team is undefeated this Series, and the Twins have been wondrous at home -- 60-25.

"It'll be good to get back there; that's for sure," Twins Manager Tom Kelly said. "We got outpitched and outplayed here. We didn't swing the bats as well as we're capable of. Tudor and Cox just shut us down."

Tonight, Cox allowed the Twins five singles and three walks. He left early to be available to pitch a possible Game 7 Sunday in the Metrodome. The Twins scored twice in the eighth on Gary Gaetti's triple, but they also left four runners in scoring position, and in three games here batted .154 with runners in scoring position.

Asked about his availability Sunday, on two days' rest, Cox said: "I've never done that before. That's up to Whitey {Herzog}. If he gives me the ball, I'll do my best. We're not thinking about Game 7 yet. John's going to go out in Game 6 and do a heckuva job."

Meanwhile, the Cardinals pecked and poked and punched at starter Bert Blyleven (six innings, two earned runs). They had 10 hits, all singles and four of them infield singles. They stole five bases. They took advantage of Blyleven's only walk. They took advantage of the Twins' only error.

Without Jack Clark and Terry Pendleton, the Cardinals knew they would have to run, take advantage of every chance and get great pitching. As Cox was giving them the pitching, Vince Coleman stole his fifth and sixth bases of the Series and scored twice. Ozzie Smith stole his first two bases and scored once.

"Well, I feel a lot better," Manager Herzog said. "We've just got to go up and try to win a game. We knows it's a tough place to play up there. They played us tough here. I hope we can keep the ball in the park up there."

In a three-run sixth inning, Coleman and Smith had infield hits, and Gagne made a big error. But the big hit was from Ford, another prototype Cardinal who can run, throw and make contact. Only 26, he platooned in right field this season and is penciled in to be a fourth outfielder next season.

A night after unheralded Tom Lawless hit a three-run homer, Ford lined one of Blyleven's fastballs up the middle in the sixth to end a scoreless tie. "It feels great," Ford said. "I watched Bert Blyleven with the bases loaded and saw he wasn't afraid to throw his breaking ball. With two outs, I was going to make sure I got a good swing."

Cox began shakily, leaving runners on base in four of the first five innings. But after Steve Lombardozzi's single to lead off the fifth, he retired eight Twins in a row.

"I had better location than in Game 2," Cox said. "You have to give them credit. They go up swinging the sticks. We did what we had to do here. Now, we've got a tough road to travel up there, but it's going to be a fun one."

The Cardinals got runners to third in the third and fifth inning, but it wasn't until the sixth that they broke up Blyleven's shutout.

Coleman led off with an infield single that was actually a routine bouncer to Hrbek at first until it hit a seam in the artificial turf and died. Smith bunted perfectly along the third-base line for another single. Herr flied to left for the first out, but Coleman and Smith stole second and third on a 1-0 pitch to Dan Driessen. Blyleven walked Driessen intentionally to load the bases and struck out Willie McGee on three unhittable curveballs.

He then went to 2-1 on Ford. Laudner called for a curveball. Blyleven shook him off, and Ford lined a fastball into center for a 2-0 lead.

"We got a break in that inning," Herzog said. "The ball Coleman hit stayed down, and Hrbek did a good job to get a glove on the ball. Ozzie laid down a real nice bunt. I was playing to get Willie up there, but as it turned out Ford got the big hit."

It should have stayed 2-0 when Oquendo hit a routine bouncer to shortstop Gagne. But he bobbled it, allowing Driessen to score and Oquendo to reach first.

The Cardinals made it 4-0 in the seventh when Coleman walked with one out and reliever Keith Atherton balked. Kelly called for Jeff Reardon, and Coleman stole third. Coleman then scored when Smith lined a hit off Lombardozzi's glove.

The Twins made it 4-2 in the eighth when Gladden and Gagne began with singles. Kirby Puckett flied to center, and Herzog brought in Ken Dayley, who got Hrbek on a fly.

Todd Worrell pitched to Gaetti, who tripled off McGee's glove to score two runs. But Worrell got Brunansky on a fly to McGee. Worrell walked two in the ninth, but with the tying runs on base got Don Baylor on an infield pop to end it.

"It's going to be a dogfight up there," Cox said, "and I'm looking forward to it."