Cardinals, Brewers not as dissimilar as some had thought

They haven't exactly transformed themselves into ''Harvey's Hares'' and ''Whitey's Wallbusters,'' but both the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals have demonstrated a lot more versatility than expected so far in their World Series confrontation.

Manager Harvey Kuenn's Brewers, of course, were supposed to be a bunch of Muscle Beach characters who don't know any way to play ball except to hit it out of the park. Meanwhile Whitey Herzog's Cardinals were seen as strictly rabbits in this contest - the speed-oriented types who did almost all of their damage by creating havoc on the basepaths.

So in a couple of ironic role reversals, the Brewers showed surprising speed, defense, and offensive variety of their own, while the Cardinals retaliated with some unexpected long-ball power as the teams split the first four games of the best-of-seven test.

Actually, Kuenn insisted even before the Series began that the so-called experts were making too much of the speed-versus-power theme - and that they were badly mistaken if they thought his Brewers were a one-dimensional team.

''We have guys who can steal a base or hit-and-run too,'' he pointed out. ''We had three guys with more than 200 hits each, you know - and they weren't all homers. Also, with all the talk about our hitting, people sometimes overlook the fact that we play pretty good defense too.''

Milwaukee quickly illustrated all this in Game 1 in St. Louis. Busch Stadium's artificial turf was supposed to give the Cardinals a big edge, but it was the Brewers who took advantage of it, spraying hits all over, beating out infield grounders, and coming up with key defensive plays in a 10-0 victory. And even though they lost the second game 5-4, the Brewers again played good, aggressive baseball.

''Everybody seems to assume we've got nine lumberjacks who drag their bats up to the plate and swing three times trying to hit the ball out,'' said catcher Ted Simmons. ''They may find that we'll do just the opposite.''

The Brewers, in fact, have plenty of ''rabbits'' in their lineup. Leadoff man Paul Molitor stole 41 bases this season, No. 2 hitter Robin Yount swiped 14 while being thrown out only three times, and several others including Charlie Moore, Jim Gantner, and reserve outfielder Marshall Edwards also run very well. As Molitor puts it: ''I think there is a great misunderstanding about the Brewers being a one-factor ball club. We can adjust to different surfaces. We have speed; we just haven't had to go to it too often. Why run yourself out of an inning when there are five guys in the lineup who have hit over 20 homers?''

Conversely, the Cardinals apparently have a bit more power than the so-called experts thought they did. But their philosophy can be summed up just by turning Molitor's rhetorical question around: Why should they swing for the distant fences at Busch Stadium when they have Lonnie Smith with 68 stolen bases, four others with 19 or more, and the overall team speed to run their opponents into distraction on the basepaths?

But put them in Milwaukee's County Stadium, with real grass nullifying some of that speed and with shorter fences and a friendly wind blowing out, and they can hit the ball in the stands too - as Willie McGee showed by blasting two home runs to lead St. Louis to a 6-2 victory in game 3.

Game 4 was a bit more typical of the two teams. The Cardinals used their running game to good advantage in building an early lead - stealing two bases, forcing some defensive lapses, and even coming up with a World Series first when Ozzie Smith scored from second base on a sacrifice fly. And the Brewers showed their solid hitting - if not their home run punch - during a six-run seventh inning rally that produced a 7-5 victory.

After these displays the composite statistics finally did begin to reflect the differing offensive patterns of the two teams. The Cardinals had a 5-1 edge in stolen bases, along with the various speed factors that don't show up in box scores. And the Brewers had a lot more hitting overall, as shown by their .296 team batting average compared to the Cardinals' .197. But Milwaukee's power statistics were not much better at all (just 3-2 in home runs and 13-11 in total extra base hits). And the bottom line, with the classic more than halfway over, seemed to be that each can adjust to the other's game and ballpark a lot better than had been expected.

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