MINNEAPOLIS, OCT. 26 -- Since the day they clinched a division championship in Texas a month ago, they'd talked about shaking the image of losers.

They denied it time and again, yet they kept coming back to it. Players mentioned it, front office people mentioned it and fans and the media mentioned it. The Minnesota Twins hadn't been to the World Series in 22 years, hadn't had a single other winning season this decade and were generally regarded to have backed into first place in a weak division.

It was the Minnesota Syndrome. The Vikings had lost four Super Bowls. The North Stars had never won much of anything. Humphrey had lost, Mondale had lost.

So in the chilly early hours today as fans jammed onto Hennepin Avenue slapping hands and hanging out of car windows, the temporary madness that comes with a World Series championship must have been especially sweet for the Minnesota Twins.

"I can't express my feelings," outfielder Tom Brunansky said.

"What this means for the team, the community is something. We came a long, long, long way since 1982 and this moment is so enjoyable. I never will forget it, not for the rest of my life. Now, it's finally off our shoulders."

Certainly, the '87 Twins won't be remembered as a great team. They gave up more runs over the season than they scored, something no other Series winner had done. They had the fewest regular season victories (85) and their pitchers the highest earned run average (4.63) ever for a World Series champion. And they're the first team to win a World Series without winning a road game.

The St. Louis Cardinals may forever wonder if they're living under a curse, having had to play the 1985 Series without leadoff man Vince Coleman and this one without half their infield (Jack Clark and Terry Pendleton). For five months this season, the Cardinals were the best team in the game. But after Clark tore up his ankle on Sept. 9, they almost needed a miracle to hold off the New York Mets in the NL East.

"I still don't know how we did it," Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog said. "A lot of things happened to us, and they contributed to the Twins' winning. But that doesn't mean I don't respect the world champions. I tip my hat to them."

There were easy answers to the Twins' beating the Cardinals. They outhomered them, 7-2, outscored them, 38-26, and outdefensed them (three errors to six). They also had the home field advantage, with Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 played in the Metrodome and Games 3, 4 and 5 played at Busch Stadium.

"They play like hell, especially in this ballpark," Herzog said.

If he sounded relaxed, he should be. When spring training begins, his offense will be the best in the game and his pitching staff will be talented and deep. If they can get past the Mets in their division, the Cardinals ought to be back in the Series in another year or two. They're already the closest thing to a dynasty this decade (three pennants, two more than any other team), and with young pitchers Joe Magrane, Greg Mathews and upcoming Cris Carpenter, they have a chance to dominate into the '90s.

Meanwhile, the Twins face a struggle. Their everyday lineup is solid and their infield defense is outstanding. But after World Series MVP Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven, the starting pitching is thin, and even with the addition of closer Jeff Reardon, the bullpen is short of middle relief.

No matter. The Twins celebrated into the early hours of this morning and will be honored with a parade Tuesday. By opening day next spring, they'll be outfitted with the rings worn by World Series champions.

"Unbelievable, unbelievable," center fielder Kirby Puckett said. "The feeling is indescribable. No one can take this away from us. We've overcome a lot of adversity all year. No one thought we could win the division, but we did it. I think we surprised everyone but ourselves."

One of his teammates, catcher Tim Laudner, sat in a corner of the home clubhouse Sunday night saying over and over, "World champions, world champions, world champions. I love everybody. World champions!"

It was especially sweet for first baseman Kent Hrbek, a native of St. Paul who spent many of his boyhood hours watching the Twins lose at the old outdoor Met. It was Hrbek who twice led a delegation of players back onto the field at the Metrodome Sunday night for an emotional recognition of around 40,000 fans who remained in their seats almost an hour after the victory.

"It's the best feeling in the world," Hrbek said. "I don't even know why I went back out there. The fans wanted us out there, and they deserved it. This is my home, and there was a time when good players didn't think they'd stay with the Twins because you wouldn't get paid. I think everyone's proud to wear this uniform now."

They won it with no dominant performers, with no great flurry of speed or power, only with a lot of players throwing in a couple of things each day. Specifically:

Game 1: Viola pitched five-hit ball for eight innings and Dan Gladden hit a grand slam in a 10-1 victory.

Game 2: Bert Blyleven and two relievers combined on a nine-hitter, and Gary Gaetti and Laudner homered in an 8-4 victory.

Game 3: In St. Louis, John Tudor and Todd Worrell pitched a five-hitter, and Vince Coleman's seventh-inning double drove in two runs in a 3-1 Cardinals victory.

Game 4: As Viola allowed five runs in 3 1/3 innings, three Cardinals pitchers combined on a seven-hitter and Tom Lawless hit his second career homer for a 7-2 victory.

Game 5: Danny Cox and two relievers threw a six-hitter, and Coleman stole two bases and scored two runs in a 4-2 St. Louis victory. The Cardinals stole five bases in all.

Game 6: Back in the Metrodome, the Twins were awesome again, with an 11-5 victory. Juan Berenguer and Reardon pitched four innings of shutout relief, and Don Baylor and Hrbek drove in seven runs between them.

Game 7: Viola won his second game, allowing two base runners, total, in innings three through eight, and the Twins scored single runs in the second, fifth, sixth and eighth. They survived three runners getting thrown out, two of them at the plate.

"It seemed like there was a different hero every game," said shortstop Greg Gagne, whose infield single drove in the go-ahead run in Game 7. "That's the way it was all year. Everyone contributed a little. It seemed like we had someone new contributing every night during the season, too."

By the end of Game 7, though, Viola had proven he was a little more equal than the other equals, having survived an early struggle to shut down the Cardinals.

"It looked like they were sitting on my change-up," he said. "I was finally able to spot my fastball. That worked the rest of the game. There was really no more pressure than in Game 1 or Game 4. There wasn't any pressure on us from the beginning of the year. People didn't expect anything from us. We've come from 102 losses in 1982 all the way to the world championship. Everyone played a part in this, everyone contributed and that makes it sweeter."

One of the main factors of the first indoor World Series was the noise generated inside the Metrodome, where the Twins were 62-25 overall. By the end of Game 7, it was so loud that players said their ears were numb to many sounds.

"It was so loud out there that the last inning didn't even seem real," third baseman Gaetti said. "I felt like I was the left field camera, watching on television. It seemed like that was where my view was. Like I couldn't get near anybody. It was like a haze."