Cheaters never prosper. Who thought Orel Hershiser, one of baseball's leading citizens for 15 years, would ever have to endure such words?

Loose lips sink ships. But they can also damage reputations and even, conceivably, help your team lose the World Series. Just be glad you're not Chad Ogea. The Cleveland pitcher gets to start Game 2 of the Series on Sunday night. He'll have a lot on his mind.

Last Sunday, Ogea said Hershiser cheated, by illegally moistening his pitches. Ogea didn't just say it, he embellished it at a news conference. He and Orel had been teammates for three years, so he was in the know. "He showed me how to cheat but said I can't do it until I'm 35," added Ogea. A day later, Ogea said he was joking.

"Chad just made a mistake," Hershiser said Friday. "I don't want kids to think one of their heroes, if I am, is a cheater, because I don't cheat. . . . That's the only thing I would be depressed about."

In Game 1 of the Series Saturday night, amid taunts from the crowd and media speculation about his baseball ethics, Hershiser took the mound with his reputation intact as the premier postseason pitcher of his generation. Never in October, in 16 games with a 1.91 ERA and an 8-1 record, had he provided a bad start.

Then, with tens of millions of fans watching him with new eyes, Hershiser got shelled. Now the Bulldog has a new World Series record. In 93 World Series, going back to 1903, no pitcher has given up more earned runs than Hershiser did Saturday night: seven. In all his previous Series starts combined, he'd allowed just six.

Moises Alou bombed a three-run homer off the left field foul pole. The next hitter, Charles Johnson, cranked one of the longest Series homers of the past 20 years, eight rows into the left field upper deck. It was "measured" at 438 feet but would've gone 475 unimpeded. Hershiser left after just 4 1/3 innings, and the Indians lost, 7-4.

Might Hershiser have been distracted by the spitball controversy, which has bubbled for a week? Could his legendary focus have been cracked?

Alou's homer came on an 0-2 pitch, -- an uncharacteristic mental mistake. The previous hitter had reached base because Hershiser was slow to cover first base. "Entirely my fault," he said. Certainly, the Wet One was on every mind. And Hershiser played to it, inviting scrutiny, not ducking it.

Before the game, the Indians were introduced. Just as the PA system intoned Hershiser's name -- when every eye and every yell of "cheater" would be directed at him -- the 39-year-old vet poured water all over his head. He couldn't have soaked himself better in a shower. Is that wet enough for everybody?

For generations, the rule of thumb (so to speak) for accused spitballers has been: Make 'em think you cheat on every pitch. If you're going to get booed, criticized and frisked by umpires, if you're going to run the risk of getting caught, at least get the full benefits of the illegal pitch. Drive 'em crazy thinking about it constantly.

When Hershiser got in his first big jam in the third inning, he went behind the mound -- where almost anything, except using a hammer and chisel on the ball, is legal -- and did the Mystery Substance Dance. He dug inside his belt, ran his fingers under his cap bill, reached inside his shirt and ran his hand through his wet neck hair.

"They must have really thought I was doing something tonight," said Hershiser, joking but with tight lips. "That's why I had a bad outing -- on purpose. To fake 'em out. . . . You notice nobody ever accuses you of cheating when you get hit hard."

Inside baseball's dugouts, the consensus on Hershiser has been fairly clear over the years. When he was the best pitcher of 1988 -- throwing 59 consecutive shutout innings and dominating the postseason -- everybody thought he had the nastiest power sinker anybody could remember. But almost no one thought he cheated. The protests by opposing teams actually flattered him. He beamed with pride when you asked him about the accusations. You could almost see him thinking, "My stuff is so good they can't believe it's real."

Hershiser's arm was never the same after his October heroics in '88. He missed most of the '90 and '91 seasons, then was a 28-35 pitcher the next three years. As Earl Weaver once told Ross Grimsley with the bases loaded, "If you know how to cheat, this would be a good time to start."

When Cleveland signed Hershiser for the '95 season, he was an old-timer looking at his last chance. Suddenly, his sinker returned. He went 16-6, 15-9 and, this year, 14-6, with a splendid 7-1 run at the end. Was he, finally, really cheating? Baltimore Manager Davey Johnson, one of Hershiser's offseason golfing buddies, thinks so.

This week's episode -- magnified a thousand-fold by its World Series setting -- might be funny if it were not also sad. Many pitchers do a little something to the ball now and then. Scuff it. Wet it. Grease it. For great pitchers late in their careers there is a kind of senior citizens' dispensation to tamper with the horsehide occasionally. You've earned it, as long as you don't overdo it.

But nobody, absolutely nobody, comes out and says it. Especially about a distinguished and beloved teammate. Even if you claim you were joking, you've opened the box and let the demons out. You can't put 'em back, Pandora. What others have whispered about Hershiser for a decade, Ogea shouted. As a result, he let loose the dogs on Orel.

"I avoided the media for a day and a half," said Hershiser on Friday. "I didn't want to put Chad on the hot seat because he was pitching the next day {against Baltimore}. I wanted him to think about pitching. . . . I wasn't avoiding anybody because I needed to hide something. I was avoiding it so Chad didn't have to read about it."

So much that goes on inside baseball's insular world has its own curious rules and customs. There are codes of honor. And Hershiser, even if he gets water off his neck and puts it on the ball, is well within them. But, with the lights so bright, who can explain? "We are playing adult games with adult gamesmanship, just trying to get under each other's skin," said Hershiser, who has worked as hard to cultivate a clean-cut hero's image as any modern player. "The 12-year-old doesn't understand those concepts."

In this World Series opener, the Marlins' Livan Hernandez was not very sharp. He allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings. In almost every one of Hershiser's other 16 postseason starts, he'd have outdueled the rookie. Instead, the Marlins breezed to victory. What would have happened if Ogea, proud of his slightly colorful personality, hadn't flipped his lip? No one knows.

Sherlock Holmes said that, in investigating a crime, never believe in coincidence: Look for cause and effect. World Series detectives are going to suspect a felony was committed here. If Ogea loses Game 2 and Cleveland drops this Series, they may believe it for a long time. CAPTION: Orel Hershiser, who critics said doctored the baseball, was shelled in Game 1. "You notice nobody ever accuses you of cheating when you get hit hard."