"THE CLOUDS rolled away, the Goodyear blimp appeared overhead and Rose got the hit," as the first-base umpire recalled it later. A congratulatory mob of well-wishers formed around Pete Rose, then parted, leaving him as alone as a man can be in front of a crowd of more than 40,000 people. The museum-keepers of baseball even came out and took away first base. Not about to be picked off at this point in his career, Mr. Rose stood for seven minutes where the base had been, while the crowd chanted his name, and for the first time since the death of his father, he burst into tears.

If Cecil B. DeMille were still alive, he might have been suspected of directing Pete Rose's triumph Wednesday night. But the fact is that with Mr. Rose, you don't need any DeMilles. He's a natural. What did he do after he'd broken Ty Cobb's record with base hit number 4,192? Why he went to third on a single, then scored. Later he got another hit, scored the only other run of the game and capped it all by putting his 44-year-old body through a tough bit of gymnastics with a spectacular fielding play to make the final out.

Nice, but nothing new. He's been doing this sort of thing for 23 years, with an intensity, determination and certainty that finally must have won over even the most cynical. Maybe for a while you thought it was a bit much -- that business of running at top speed to first after drawing a walk. Perhaps for a while, 10 years or so, you thought those head-first slides were just showboating. But after a time the man wears you down and makes a believer of you, just as he whittled down Cobb's Mount Everest of a record by coming to bat over 2,000 more times than Cobb did, pounding out single after single, keeping himself in major-league shape into his mid-40s and keeping the faith with the game and its traditions.

Mr. Rose had his greatest years with the Cincinnati Reds, then went off to Philadelphia as a free agent, and later to Montreal. When he was recalled to his home town to be manager of the Reds this season, the stage was set for what could have been a demeaning little performance: a player in pursuit of one of the game's most sacred records has the power to pencil himself into the leadoff spot every night, getting precious turns at bat. But no one expected him to do it that way, and he didn't.

He played when he should, maintained a respectable batting average and led a bottom-dwelling team back to its customary position near the top. With that kind of managing he may be in uniform for another 23 years, which would not be long enough for us.