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THE WORLD SERIES : Analysis : Wake Us When It's All Over

October 24, 1987|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS — It is traditional for a World Series analysis to be written the day after the final game. But who needs to see another game in this one? Who can stand to see another?

Friday's merciful day off provided time for reflection and:

--A welcome break from the relentless excitement of researching biographies as Dan Gladden, Randy Bush, Tom Lawless and Curt Ford deliver the big hits.

--A respite from the gnawing tension of watching Vince Coleman, the St. Louis Cardinals' stolen base king, duel Tim Laudner, the Minnesota catcher who couldn't nail Coleman if he were armed with a howitzer instead of the pop gun that passes as his arm.

--A measure of relief from the tedium of a Series that has been as dull as one of Tom Kelly's quotes.

It is a Series that has:

--Produced only one instance of strategic debate--should Kelly, the Twin manager, have removed Les Straker after six shutout innings of Game 3 and then permitted Juan Berenguer to pitch to Terry Pendleton?

--Been distinguished only by the characteristic brilliance of Ozzie Smith, the verve of Coleman, the tenacity of John Tudor, Danny Cox and Bert Blyleven and the open freshness of rookie Straker.

Where are the ghosts of Octobers past? Where are the Twins of Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison, the Cardinals of Bob Gibson and Mike Shannon?

As Jack Clark, the sidelined St. Louis first baseman, noted the other day: "Neither of these teams is great by any means. It seems weird to get to the World Series and you expect to see teams like Oakland with Reggie (Jackson) and Catfish (Hunter) and Rollie Fingers. Or the Big Red Machine.

"Neither one of these teams is like that. There's no way we should believe these guys are unbeatable, and there's no way they should believe that we're unbeatable."

Two questions have clouded this no-name, no-news Series:

--How did these teams get this far?

--Is this the way it is in baseball now?

The first one is a little easier to answer than the second.

The Twins played in baseball's worst division, the American League West. They got here with an 85-77 record. In any other division, they would have been an also-ran. Nine of the 25 other teams had better records.

They got here by turning their familiarity with the hokey Homerdome into a 60-25 record, including postseason games, that offset a 31-56 road record, casting them as nothing more than curiosities of a sort.

They got here with a generally solid defense, four legitimate power hitters, a two-man starting staff and a bona fide closer in Jeff Reardon. Only in the woeful West could they have survived.

They got here by beating a superior Detroit Tigers team in the playoffs on the basis of a break in the schedule--the first two games were in the Metrodome--and the fact that the Tigers seemed emotionally spent after winning the title in baseball's toughest division, the AL East, during that final weekend series with Toronto.

As Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson said early in the playoffs, sensing defeat perhaps: "The rules are rules, but I'd challenge the Twins or any team to come live in our division."

Or as St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog said the other day: "It seems a shame that a team like Detroit wins 98 games and gets beat by a team that wins 85, but that's the way it is. It's happened before and it'll happen again."

The Cardinals got here on speed, resiliency and the first-half restoration of an offense that had led the National League in virtually every category except home runs during the pennant-winning campaign of 1985.

While the New York Mets fought among themselves and struggled to repair an injury-weakened pitching staff, the Cardinals overcame their own array of injuries to open a nine-game lead at the All-Star break. After that, they went 39-37, surviving charges by the Mets and Montreal Expos to win the title in the National League East by three games with a 95-67 record.

The Cardinals, as usual, stole more bases than any team in the major leagues and used Clark's 35 homers and 106 runs batted in to bolster an otherwise slapstick attack. They nursed just enough pitching out of a staff that was without injured aces Danny Cox and John Tudor much of the time and had no starter with more than 11 wins. It did have reliever Todd Worrell, who registered 33 saves.

The Cardinals got here by beating the Mets in the division race and by shutting out the San Francisco Giants--the superior team with Clark out of the St. Louis lineup--over the final 22 innings of the playoffs, stylishly changing speeds against a fastball-hitting club that suddenly forgot the meaning of selectivity.

The Cardinals also got here with the league's best infield and a bench that makes up with versatility what it lacks in punch. In fact, a curious thing has happened. The injury-depleted Cardinals, with Lawless and Ford and Jose Oquendo filling the gaps, have become something of a Heartland favorite, usurping the role of the underdog Twins.

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