MINNEAPOLIS, OCT. 23 -- Some intrepid soul in St. Louis, with a sense of marketing in that beer-crazed town, should have come up with the perfect slogan for the Twins' sixth-game pitcher in the World Series:

Tastes great, Les Straker.

All jokes aside, Straker, 28, will try to save the Twins' season Saturday afternoon. He will start Game 6 of the Series against the Cardinals' John Tudor with St. Louis ahead, 3-2, in the best-of-seven series.

It will be the most important pitching assignment of his life. But just making it to the majors has been a source of great pride for a man who spent a decade in the minors with three organizations before finally sticking in the majors this season.

"That means a lot to me," he said. "The first pitcher from Venezuela to pitch in a World Series is me. They're going crazy {back home in Maracay, Venezuela}."

His hometown paper is doing a big feature on his accomplishments, but he is more interested in winning the approval of his parents, whom he speaks with often. His three siblings are working to become a doctor, engineer and teacher.

"I have to do something to make my father proud of me, too," he said. "I feel happy. I hope everything works out {Saturday}. If I do well, I will be so proud."

This season, he had an 8-10 record during the regular season, with a 4.37 ERA in 31 games (26 starts). He had one complete game of sorts, a rain-shortened, 4 1/3-inning loss in Kansas City.

In the American League Championship Series, he started Game 3 against the Tigers in Detroit, but only lasted 2 2/3 innings, giving up five earned runs on three hits. He even balked in a run.

Afterward, Twins reserve Roy Smalley talked with him about settling down and going back to the basics of pitching -- getting ahead of the hitters.

Straker said Smalley told him to "go after them, and if they hit it they hit it. Just throw strikes."

Straker redeemed himself in a big way in Game 3 of the Series, pitching six shutout innings, allowing four hits.

"The experience I think helped settle him down," Minnesota catcher Tim Laudner said yesterday. "He didn't pitch any differently {than in the ALCS} but in the Series he was able to get his fastball over."

Manager Tom Kelly sees a definite drop-off in Straker's effectiveness after about six innings or 90 pitches. And Straker, for the most part, doesn't mind being lifted.

"I've been pitching all year like that," he said. "It's my first year. I don't have a lot of experience. I think that's why {Kelly} takes me out. I believe in him."

"We'll go five or six innings with Les, and we'll see what the score is," Kelly said yesterday. "And if we're up 9-0, I don't think I'll yank him out of the game."

Twins catcher Sal Butera said Straker tends to lose the strike zone at the six-or-seven inning mark. "It's not a situation where he's left out there to rot," Butera said. "He's been in almost every game."

"I learned he's a lot better pitcher than people gave him credit for," Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog said. "I hope he's wilder than hell tomorrow and can't get the ball over."

Straker spent seven seasons in the Cincinnati organization before being released from the AA team in Waterbury, Conn., in 1983. Plagued by injuries, he was most discouraged after undergoing surgery on his left knee that year. When he came back and pitched winter ball, his mechanics were shot.

"When I came back, I did my therapy," he said. "I was working. But I tried to pitch winter ball and I got ripped, ripped, ripped."

It was a time when he was uncertain about his future. "I spoke to my wife {Thibisay} and I said 'I don't think I'll be able to pitch anymore,' " he said. "I was trying to pitch, but I didn't feel the same."

His wife helped restore his confidence while pointing out to him that he only had one chance left.

"{She} has helped me a lot," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "She has prayed for me all the time when I go out there."

He has worked with pitching coach Dick Such on developing an offspeed pitch to go with a fastball.

"He told me to use my change-up more," Straker said. "This year, I've been throwing a lot more change-ups than I ever have in my life."

His home record since the all-star break is not impressive. In six starts, he has a 5.73 ERA (33 innings, 21 earned runs) with 32 hits, 13 walks and 16 strikeouts. But he has won six of his eight games at the Metrodome, the Twins haven't lost a home game since Sept. 26 and the Cardinals haven't won a Series road game since Game 2 of the 1985 Series.

"It's not going to be that {much} pressure on me," said Straker, who will be pitching Saturday for the first time of his major league career on three days' rest. "People think because it's my first year I'll be nervous. I'm just going to try my best."