SO AUG. 1 WILL GO DOWN as the dark day when Pete Rose's pursuit of Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak was stopped at 44. Aug. 1 is also the birthday of Herman Melville, another fellow interested in pursuits; but the nice thing about Mr. Rose is that, unlike Ahab, he seemed bigger than his quest. He managed to bring a 33-ounce stick around in time to meet a 5 1/4-ounce object, 9 1/4 inches in circumference, traveling at roughly 90 miles an hour, and to hit it where the infield ain't. He did so 70 times out of 186 tries, smiling and chatting most of the way.

At least we can be grateful this isn't 1970, when Tom Seaver was on his 10-game stretch of consecutive strikeouts. Could our hearts have stood seeing Pete facing Tom, streak to streak? And we can be grateful, too, that Mr. Rose isn't a Yankee, trying to sustain his march while Billy Martin bawled into microphones in the background, or threw a punch at Reggie Jackson under the mad eyes of George Steinbrenner. We can also be grateful for Mr. DiMaggio's performance in this affair. Asked if he was pulling for Pete, Joe parried the question with admirable candor, instead of coming out with the obligatory "Records are made to be broken."

Most of all, we can be grateful to Mr. Rose for giving life to a sport that otherwise moves like a national funeral procession, coast to coast, from April to October. Every time he stood at the plate in the past week, he was not only up against the McWilliamses and Garbers, but against the past and the future as well - which took him out of baseball for a moment and put him on the line in general.The crowd in Atlanta yelled, "Pete! Pete! Pete!" It was heartening to see how long he lasted.