In a World Series that teetered back and forth between the ridiculous and the sublime, the St. Louis Cardinals prevailed in the end by being the team best able to play its own game to the hilt while neutralizing that of the opposition.
The anticipated speed vs. power matchup between the go-go Cardinals and Milwaukee's major league home run leaders never really did occur. Instead it turned out to be a Series played almost entirely on St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog's terms - stressing speed, defense, pitching, and overall execution.
Early in the Series, though, the first big surprise developed: the Brewers could play this kind of game too - and a lot better than most people had realized. They were close enough to the Cardinals, in fact, that it seemed their supposed advantage in power might be the eventual difference.
But then came the second surprise: that advantage just never materialized. In these seven contests, at least, the power games were a virtual standoff. In fact the light-hitting Cardinals, whose 67 home runs were the lowest total in either league, actually outslugged their supposedly awesome foes. They barely lost the battle of homers, 5 to 4, but had more doubles and triples to wind up on top in extra-base hits and total bases.
So it came down to the things that the Cardinals do best - especially on the artificial turf of their own spacious Busch Stadium, where four of the seven games were played. And although they had to fight back from a 3-2 deficit and survive some anxious moments, their advantages in that kind of game eventually proved decisive.
The Cardinals' superior speed showed up in a lot of ways, such as their 7-1 lead in stolen bases and the way they were able to keep constant pressure on the Brewer defense, even scoring two runs on a sacrifice fly at one point. Both teams got brilliant defense at times, but the Cardinals were much steadier overall, as shown by their seven double plays to Milwaukee's three and their 7 errors compared to the Brewers' 11. In pitching the St. Louis starters were a bit sharper, while Bruce Sutter, with a win and two saves, was the big man of the Series in the bullpen.
Milwaukee had its strong points too, however, even if the Brewers never did find the power game that had been their trademark. Led by Robin Yount, who had a near record 12 hits, and Paul Molitor, who had 11, they batted right around .300 as a team for the first five games before tailing off at the end. And manager Harvey Kuenn got the most out of a pitching staff that had to go all the way without its injured bullpen ace, Rollie Fingers, and with an obviously sub-par and struggling No. 1 starter, Pete Vukovich.
It will hardly be remembered as a classic World Series. There were far too many misplays and amateurish moments for that. Sometimes, in fact, it seemed more like the first game of spring training than what is supposed to be the game's ultimate showcase - such as when Milwaukee kicked the ball around in Games 4 and 6, or when St. Louis pitcher Dave LaPoint dropped a routine throw covering first base to open the gates for a six-run inning, or when teammate Joaquin Andujar didn't even bother covering the bag on another occasion.
The way St. Louis won Game 2 - a walk to load the bases and another to force in the winning run - wasn't exactly the ideal formula for exciting World Series play either. And of course the long rain delays in Game 6 followed by the bitter cold in Game 7 (both following pleasant late fall afternoons that would have been fine for baseball) reminded us once again of the inconvenience the games' leaders are willing to inflict on the players and fans in their quest for TV ratings.
But there were certainly many memorable moments and performances as well. There was Milwaukee's Ted Simmons returning to the city where he had starred for 11 years and smashing a dramatic homer in the first game. There was Cardinal rookie Willie McGee dominating Game 3 with two home runs and some electrifying outfield play. And there's the vivid picture of Andujar rolling on the ground after being hit by a line drive in Game 3, then returning to win the finale.
There was the remarkable story of Darrell Porter, capping his comeback from a career-threatening alcohol problem two years ago by winning MVP honors in both the playoffs and the Series. There was rookie John Stuper pitching with the poise of a veteran through that long, rainy Game 6. And always there was Lonnie Smith stirring things up one way or another - hitting .321, stealing two bases, and creating even more excitement with his unsuccessful bids to steal third and home.
There was Yount, too, of course, demonstrating why he will certainly be named the American League's MVP, along with such other Milwaukee heroes as Cecil Cooper, Charlie Moore, and two-game winner Mike Caldwell. And back on the winning side there were such other standouts as outfielder George Hendrick getting key hits and making big plays in the field; Keith Hernandez, fighting out of an 0-for-15 slump to power the St. Louis comeback with seven hits in the last three games; unsung Ken Oberkfell hitting .292 and playing a solid third base; designated hitter Dane Iorg leading all batters with a .529 average; and shortstop Ozzie Smith, displaying the brilliance that has earned him the nickname ''The Wizard of Oz.''
Each team won one game easily - Milwaukee the 10-0 opener and St. Louis the 13-1 sixth game, but all of the others were nip and tuck. The Cardinals scored in the eighth to win Game 2, 5-4, then held off a Milwaukee rally to take Game 3 , 6-2. It was the Brewers' turn to come back next, scoring six runs in the seventh inning for a 7-5 Game 4 triumph, and Milwaukee scrambled to a 6-4 win in Game 5. Then after the big Cardinal win in Game 6, the finale was again a close battle, with St. Louis rallying for three runs in the sixth and going on to win 6-3.
For the Brewers it was a tough ending to an incredible season - especially since four times in the last two weeks they had played other games they had to win (the regular season finale in Baltimore and the last three games of the A.L. playoffs). and had prevailed every time.
The Cardinals are a team that never gives up either, and they showed supreme confidence in their ''scratch-and-claw'' attack, never abandoning it even when they fell behind or got burned a few times by running into rally-killing outs.
They call this game the ''rat offense'' after Herzog's nickname of the White Rat, referring to his light blond hair. Whitey says he doesn't mind the nickname , but his wife isn't too fond of it. So if he wants to do her a favor, now is the time. Judging by the wild celebrations in the streets last night after this city claimed the ninth World Championship in its proud baseball history and the first in 15 years, Whitey could probably get the people of St. Louis to call him anything he wanted them to right now - even ''Mr. Mayor.''