A lot will be made of the contrasts when the World Series begins here tomorrow night. The jackrabbit image of the St. Louis Cardinals will be placed alongside that of the more Bunyanesque Minnesota Twins, for example. But even more fundamentally, different expectations have historically surrounded these clubs. After the New York Yankees, the Cardinals have appeared in the World Series more than any other team, 15 times including this year. Despite fluctuating fortunes, the franchise's motor always seems to be running with the gears ready to shift at any moment. In fact, the Cardinals have accelerated into the World Series three times during the last six seasons, and boast plenty of post-season savvy with such experienced veterans as shortstop Ozzie Smith, centerfielder Willie McGee, and manager Whitey Herzog.
The Twins, on the other hand, have their roots with the old Washington Senators, a team that's locale and dreary results led to the famous line about Washington being the first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.
Granted, the club basically gained a new lease on life when it moved to Minneapolis in 1961 and experienced a renaissance. But after a 1965 World Series appearance followed by two division championships within the first decade of relocation, the heyday drew to a halt and the team settled back into the pack.
Interestingly enough, the latest resurgence began when a combination youth-economy movement elevated such minor leaguers as Kent Hrbek, Kirby Puckett, and AL playoff MVP Gary Gaetti, creating the nucleus for today's club. This group flashed its promise in 1984 with a second-place finish, went into a tailspin the next two seasons, but pulled out of it dramatically this year under 37-year-old rookie manager Tom Kelly.
Aiding and abetting the youngest manager in the majors was astute 34-year-old general manager Andy McPhail, who has provided some of the missing ingredients, notably bullpen stoppers Jeff Reardon and Juan Berenguer, plus clubhouse leader and cameo hitter Don Baylor.
Still, one question hung over Minnesota's head as it made its first post-season appearance since 1970. What everyone wanted to know was if the Twins could win on the road. With the best home record in baseball, they certainly had proved they could win in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, the first indoor World Series site. Away from the ``Homerdome,'' however, they were cupcakes, turning in the worst road mark (29-52) of any team to ever make the playoffs.
In the American League championship series, the Twins took two games from the favored Tigers in Detroit to quiet the skeptics and complete a 4-games-to-1 victory over a club that had 13 more regular-season wins.
The National League playoff appeared more even on paper, but the San Francisco Giants couldn't match the Twins' newfound road strength when it counted in the sixth and seventh games.
Though perfectly attired for fall and the onset of Halloween in their black-and-orange-trimmed uniforms, the Giants went totally flat after returning to St. Louis with a 3-2 lead. The Californians' ``Humm, baby'' baseball became rock-a-bye ball as hurlers John Tudor and Danny Cox put the Giant bats to sleep. San Francisco failed to register a run during the final 22 innings of the series, an NL playoff record, as a sea of red-clad fans urged the Cards on to 1-0 and 6-0 victories.
Meanwhile the Cardinals turned in a resourceful, bright-eyed brand of play that has been a trademark of a club, which, despite injury-related absences of several key players at various times, had beaten out the defending world champion New York Mets in the NL East division race.
A key contributor in the pennant-clinching victory was Jos'e Oquendo, a utility man who stole the slugging limelight from the visitors by belting a three-run homer that propelled the Redbirds to a 6-0 decision.
Speed and defense are the Cardinal constants, however, and in Game 7 Smith, baseball's ``Wizard of Oz,'' showed the great glove work that has been such a linchpin to St. Louis's success.
Earlier in the series Giant fans hung a banner in Candlestick Park that read ``Ozzie turns flips; Jos'e turns double plays,'' a chiding reference to a flamboyant flip Smith made before Game 1 and the stellar play of San Francisco shortstop Jos'e Uribe.
With the money on the line, though, Ozzie was wearing the golden glove, helping to turn three double plays in Game 7 and catching a line drive off Jeff Leonard's bat that had bounced off the top of his glove.
Among the big questions now as this ``Riverboat World Series'' shuttles between two Mississippi River communities and two artificial-turf fields is whether the Cardinals can keep their concentration amid the Metrodome's ear-splitting din. The Twins, on the other hand, must avoid being rattled by St. Louis's Churchill Downs baserunning act and hope that with two solid starters (Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven) they have enough pitching depth.
For the Cardinals, this represents a chance to win a ninth title after seeing this milestone elude them in '85, when a blown umpiring call opened the door for the Kansas City Royals to beat them in a seven-game series. For the Twins, this could be the beginning of their first baseball coronation. The Senators, however, did win one crown in 1924.
St. Louis vs. Minnesota Sat., Oct. 17 at Minnesota, 8:30 p.m. Sun., Oct. 18 at Minnesota, 8:25 p.m. Tues., Oct. 20 at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m. Wed., Oct. 21 at St. Louis, 8:25 p.m.
(if necessary) Thurs., Oct. 22 at St. Louis, 8:25 p.m. Sat., Oct. 24 at Minnesota, 4 p.m. Sun., Oct. 25 at Minnesota, 8:25 p.m. (All times Eastern)