MINNEAPOLIS -- Herbie and Kirby proved this afternoon that whales, under special circumstances, can fly. The twin symbols of the Minnesota Twins -- the lovably large Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett -- arrived at the World Series in Game 6 just in time to remove the sprouting goat's horns from their heads and, instead, prepare a place for garlands, perhaps, just a day from now.

These two recreational vehicles tell you what's best about the Twins and why, eventually, each of them may be given his own town. Baseball is a banquet for them and so's the beer and brat afterwards. They've been having fun all summer long and, when the St. Louis Cardinals insisted on winning three games last week in Missouri, they continued to joke in the locker room and remind their teammates that being in the World Series wasn't so bad, even the losing part.

"Somebody buy me a brew," was Hrbek's cheerful response to defeat while Puckett set up his own bench at the barbecue and cold cuts table and held court, usually grinning. What's so bad about coming home to play inside your own bass drum? Especially if you get to choose when to beat it. If Whitey Herzog and John Tudor (last seen on this stage with mouths full of sour grapes in '85) are correct and the Twins also know every pitch that's coming in the Dome, then, what-the-hey, no wonder the Twins smile so much.

Saturday afternoon, the biggest of the barrel-chested Twins led by example. No, we're not talking about Hrbek getting picked off second to puncture a rally or Puckett overthrowing the cutoff man to set up a run. All that seemed enormously important when St. Louis led, 5-2, at the game's midpoint. This was not the day, however, for jolly fellows to drag bad plays and lowly batting averages into the offseason behind them. The Cardinals' scouting reports on these two was identical. When they're hot, they hit everything. When they're not, they miss everything.

Memo to Joe Migraine (sic). Guess what. The round guys in the middle of the order were cold. Now, they're hotter 'round here than John Deere tractors and knee-high galoshes. The 5-foot-8, 220-pound Puckett started the day batting .200 in the Series with one RBI and two runs produced. So, he went four for four with a walk, scored four times and remembered to drive in a run, too.

"I didn't {give advice} to Hrbek. I needed somebody to talk to me," said Puckett. "I took extra hitting {before the game}. Just tried to stay back and hit the ball up the middle." That's what you do when you're desperate, even if you batted .332 with 207 hits. "Did pretty good with it, didn't I?"

Hrbek? He was batting .235 in this Mississeries and, no, that's not hitting his weight. Not even his listed weight of 244. So, after a couple of loud line drives to center, one of which could have been called a double, but went as an error, Hrbek calmly smashed every helmet and bat in sight in the dugout. "I'm just that kind of emotional guy. Gotta let it out. Roy Smalley told me, 'Hey, man, you're swinging real well.' "

Try, try again, Mr. Buy A Vowel. As measured by local air traffic controllers, Hrbek's grand slam home run went 431 feet. You can get a Supersaver rate on shorter flights. "I wish I could have run around twice," said Hrbek, who had 34 homers this year, but presumably never before gave himself the touchdown sign as he rounded first or stomped on home plate like he was trying to explode a cup. "That was something I'll never feel again. Home state, family in the park. I was pretty happy . . . but I didn't flip my bat." Take that, Tom Hitless, the banjo hitter who played Frankie Viola.

This game, perhaps the closest 11-5 blowout you'll ever see, had a dozen key moments. Why did Herzog stick with Tudor after Gary Gaetti's double -- the ninth Twins hit in four-plus innings? After watching Don Baylor's four RBI, would Boston's John McNamara like to rethink some of his pinch-hitting decisions in last year's Series? One at-bat, however, stood above all others in this game. Hrbek's in the sixth, Twins ahead, 6-5, against Ken Dayley, the lefthander with 20 scoreless postseason innings.

Baseball fanatics -- those who think real games are being played here in the Thunderdome, not foregone Twins wins -- will probably agree with Herzog's words to Dayley. "Get this guy out and we got a chance to win." Even Twins Manager Tom Kelly, after seeing Gary Gaetti and Tom Brunansky pop up with the bases crowded, said, "If we don't score there {after second and third, none out}, the game could have turned on us again." See, Kelly's pitcher at that moment, Juan Berenguer, had a 33.75 Series ERA.

Hrbek relieved the pressure on Berenguer's shoulders on one pitch and, concomitantly, proved that the Thunderdome, while it may sag from snow and rip from wind, will never be toppled by mere sound. It might be louder if you, and a dinner service for 12, were inside a washing machine on spin cycle.

Hrbek's suffering has been every fan's in this state. The Vikings losing four Super Bowls. The North Stars fading in the Stanley Cup. Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale. They keep a whole list up here, and these are just some top items. Hrbek, Twin Cities born and raised, is now at the heart of the solution. "People I went to high school with, I tell them, but they still can't believe how much fun this all is."

"Game 7, you really never know," said Baylor. "A lot of guys like to play in a Game 7."

A lot don't. Historically, Game 7s exist in their own tension-born vacuum, almost untouched by crowds and conditions. They are rare and different. No matter what anybody says, the score right now is Cardinals 0, Twins 0.