Just as he crossed the plate after hitting a dramatic ninth-inning homer to beat Boston on Thursday, Windy Jackson glanced up at the scoreboard and saw New York had just done the same to Detroit, winning on a homer in the ninth. It was apparent the other Senators didn't know that the Yankees had won, for they were mobbing Windy at the plate, deliriously celebrating another improbable victory. But when Windy glumly directed his teammates' attention to the scoreboard, they all understood the harsh implication.

"Those damn Yankees," Windy said bitterly.

The Senators had won their 24th straight game, but the Yankees' victory kept them four games ahead of Washington with only three games to play. The window was closed. The Senators had been mathematically eliminated from the pennant race. Their post-game clubhouse was as somber as a funeral parlor.

"Except for the time when my answering machine broke and I missed a whole weekend's worth of calls, I can't remember ever feeling so depressed," Tyler Motherwell said.

"Me neither," murmured John Doe.

"Come on, Johnny," Oscar Madison said reproachfully. "You can't remember this morning."

"What a strange feeling," marveled Windy Jackson. "I hit a homer to win a game, and yet I'm sitting here totally morose."

"I know what you mean, buddy," Bad Dude Harding said consolingly. "I won a contest on a radio program once -- named all the lead singers the Platters ever had. The prize was a bunch of Mac Davis albums."

The Senators dressed slowly, contemplating what to do next: The three games left were all against the Yankees. After that, the season would be finished, and it was anybody's guess what would become of the Senators next year. As if drawn by an invisible magnet, the players gathered around Windy and Bad Dude, who had emerged as the team leaders during the hectic last six weeks.

Grinning, Windy turned to Bad Dude and said, "What do we do now, Sundance?"

"You keep thinking, Butch -- that's what you're good at, thinking."

Windy's eyes surveyed the room. Everybody waited anxiously for him to speak, except Danny Broccoli, who was by his locker writing the words to "Helter Skelter" on the inside bill of his Senators cap; Tony Cadenza, who'd packed the uneaten food from the post-game clubhouse buffet and taken it to his restaurant to sell; and the missing link, Shaky Faloon, whose nerves had gotten the best of him lately and put him on the PDL -- the psychologically disabled list.

"The way I see it," Windy said, "okay, we can't win the pennant, but we can still have a big say in who does. We're down four to the Yankees and two to the Orioles. We can't make the Orioles win, but we can help."

"If we can't win, why should we care who does?" sniffed Tyler Motherwell.

"Spoken like a true yuppie," Bad Dude said with disgust.

"It comes down to The Tang Factor," Windy explained. "Tang can't win the pennant now. So who do you think he'd most like to see get it in his place? It's got to be Steinbrenner, right? The mentor."

The Senators made sour faces.

"An incredible doofus," said Stun Gun Ginzburg.

"A measle," said Oscar Madison.

Windy waited for quiet. "I say we go out there, sweep the Yankees and give Baltimore some room on the rail. Edward Bennett Williams is no bucket of blueberries, but I'd rather stick it to Tang and Steinbrenner. Who's with me?"

The Senators burst into a rousing cheer of approval and exchanged exuberant high-fives. In a moment Windy and Bad Dude were alone in the clubhouse.

"We need Shaky to catch against the Yankees," Windy said. "I wouldn't trust Cadenza as far as I could throw that heifer of a wife he's got."

"I hear you," Bad Dude said.

"Gonna have to snatch him, Dude."

"Sounds like old times."

Shaky was in Tranquil Acres, a combination dog kennel and psychiatric-care facility in Culpeper. Team physician Dr. Samuel Shem had placed him there in the hope that Shaky's paralyzing fear of crowds might be mitigated by confronting the ambivalence he felt for his father, who trained huskies for the trans-Alaska Iditarod dog race. In his last letter to Shem, Shaky had written, "I'm still not sure how I feel about my father, but I've come to like eating from a dish on the floor."

It wasn't particularly hard for Windy and Bad Dude to smuggle Shaky out of Tranquil Acres. They came with a lumpy laundry bag holding a drugged body, and left with one. Instead of Shaky, however, Tranquil Acres now had a T. Cadenza in residence.

"I shouldn't be in a loony bin, I'm perfectly normal," Cadenza insisted to an attendant who heard his muffled screams and extricated him from the laundry bag.

"That's what they all say," replied the attendant, rolling his eyes. "All the normal guys take naps in laundry bags."

Meanwhile, the Senators had taken the field against the Yankees, with Shaky making his first appearance in a Senators uniform in more than a month. Major Banks was apprehensive about how he'd react in the presence of a large, boisterous crowd, and he felt overwhelming relief to see that Shaky actually seemed delighted at the ovation he received.

"Windy," Banks asked, "what's the deal with Shaky?"

"I told him if he was good, after the game I'd give him a bone."

Shaky got three hits, including the game-winning RBI, as the Senators beat the Yankees, 4-3. With the Orioles winning, the Yankees' lead was sliced to one game. The next day Shaky again got the game- winner, a three-run homer in a 6-4 game, and threw out Rickey Henderson attempting to steal three times. When the Orioles beat Detroit, the AL East was even.

Going into the final game of the season, the Senators had won an amazing 26 straight games and, of more importance to the balance of power in the division, were 13-0 against the Yankees.

"We are being beaten by dope addicts, perverts, aliens, radicals, homicidal maniacs and assorted dementos," Steinbrenner brayed before the game. "Should we lose again, I won't simply fire Lou Piniella, I'll shoot all my players."

Hearing him rant and rave, John Doe said to Oscar Madison, "Something about him is so familiar, Oscar. I really think he's my father." And Doe made his way to Steinbrenner, threw his arms around him and gave him a big kiss on the lips.

"Dad!" Doe said blissfully.

For the first time in his life, Steinbrenner, his face literally purple with shock, was speechless.

"Nice work, Johnny," Oscar told Doe. "What if I told you Joe Theismann was your brother?"

By beating the Tigers earlier in the day, the Orioles had taken a half-game lead in the AL East. So the Senators-Yankees game could determine the championship.

"I never asked you to win a single game for me all year," Major Banks told the team in the dugout. "I'm asking now."

Before 51,845 people -- all of whom swore they were on the Redskins' waiting list -- the Senators and Yankees were scoreless into the bottom of the ninth as Pappy and Sonny Doyle combined to limit New York to three hits. Then Major Banks sent Gabeen Mfoom, his designated get-hitter, up to take a bullet for the cause. Mfoom leaned in on the plate and caught an inside slider right in the labonza. The same Gabeen Mfoom whom Steinbrenner tried to have deported earlier in the season then stole second and third. As Dave Righetti went into his stretch, Mfoom broke for home, but slipped. Seeing that out of the corner of his eye, Righetti stopped his motion and wheeled to throw behind Mfoom and trap him off third. But Righetti had already started toward the plate, and umpire Al Clark hollered, "Balk!" In the visiting owner's box, Steinbrenner started choking the waiter.

All at once it was clear what had happened. The Senators had beaten the Yankees for the 14th straight time, and the Baltimore Orioles had gotten the biggest gift -- the pennant.

"These little-town blues," Mfoom warbled as he strutted toward the plate home free, "are melting away."

The streak is alive at 27, the major league record, and only two less than professional baseball's record 29 by the Salt Lake Trappers. The Senators can go for it next season -- if the team exists next season.

Tang Ye-lin still hasn't been seen since the story leaked that he was planning to move the team. The latest rumor is that he's no longer interested in relocating the team but is inclined to simply fold it.

We only know what we read on the stadium message board: Drive home safely. Thanks for coming. ::