Off in the distance, there is still Ty Cobb.

Pete Rose was 560 hits shy of Cobb's major league career hit record going into his leadoff at bat last night.

It is the only detectable thing about Pete Rose that is shy.

"The man upstairs will decide that one," Rose said after his eighth-inning single off Mark Littell of St. Louis Monday night became the 3,631st hit of his National League career.

The hit moved Rose past the man downstairs, next to the Philadelphia dugout in Veterans Stadium, where the Cardinals were beating the Phillies, 7-3.

Former Cardinal Stan (the Man) Musial's 3,630 career hits used to be the all-time National League record. Now the record belongs to Rose.

"When you get 3,631 hits you can't be lucky. You've got to play a lot of baseball and give 110 percent," said Musial, who retired in 1963, the rookie year of a Cincinnati second baseman named Pete Rose. Musial is now a member of the board of directors of the Cardinals, the team for which he played all of his 22 seasons.

Rose said of reaching Cobb's record of 4,191 hits, "It will take 21/2 years. If I get that close, I will think about it."

Cobb's 24-year career ended in 1928 when he was 41. He had a .367 career average, the best in history. Rose has a .310 career mark.

It does not take a calculator to figure that Rose is basing his timetable on a pace of 200 hits per year. You would think at 40, 19 years into a career that certainly will end with a promotion to Cooperstown, that Rose might slow, that he might not reach 200 hits, something he has done a record 10 times.

But the 15-time all-star remains as constant as the tempo of a major league baseball season used to be. He is fluid and consistent, a player who sprints to first after a base on balls as though he had just dropped a drag bunt.

"I've never felt anything like it," Rose said of the celebration by the 60,561 fans Monday night at Veterans Stadium who were cheering his history as much as his hit. "I've received standing ovations in my life, but nothing like this."

Hank Aaron ranks second on the career hit list with 3,771. Aaron, first in career home runs and first in the alphabetized baseball encyclopedia, played his last two years in the American League; 171 hits were for the Milwaukee Brewers.

But Rose is not looking at Aaron. He sees Cobb. He looks only to the top, a place he has reached with three batting titles (1968, 1969 and 1973) and with three World Series rings (1975, 1976, 1980).

The fact is, Rose almost didn't make it to Veterans Stadium Monday. After playing in the All-Star Game Sunday night in Cleveland, he drove home with a business associate and his son. "I wanted to spend some time with Petey," said Rose about his 11-year-old son/bat boy.

They left Cleveland at 1:30 a.m. and didn't arrive in Philadelphia until 10. They got lost.

"We were going in the right direction. We just got on the wrong turnpike," said Rose, finding west to east a bit more difficult than home to first.

Another man who won't forget Aug. 10, 1981 -- because history books will not allow him to do so -- is Littell, the man who gave up the home run to Yankee Chris Chambliss in the American League championship series-clinching game in 1976.

"That's baseball," he said without remorse about Rose's record hit. "He was destined to get a hit and it came off Mark Littell. He hit a good pitch. I gave him my best shot."