Pete Rose, dogged and calm, set about the grueling job of surpassing the impossible yesterday.
The Shea Stadium tumult, the chanting crowd, the rising tension, the magnum force media - all were cut in half on this sleepy afternoon following Rose's smashing of the modern National League hitting streat record.
Only one thing was the same: Rose. The Cincinnati switch-hitting machine crashed a double against the 396-foot sign in right center off the Mets' Nino Espinosa in the fifth inning to extend his streak to 39 games.
While the rest of baseball yawned, relieved that Rose had reached his sparkling goal, the Red third baseman kept his eyes fixed on the horizon looking for the crow's-nest of the Yankee Clipper to come in view: Joe DiMaggio (1941), hit safely 56 consecutive games.
The New York Jats' dressing rooms, rechristened the Rose Room this week in honor of his daily press conferences, was only half full when Rose arrived to dissect his one-for-three day in a 12-3 Cincinnati defeat.
"Hey, where's everybody got to?" Rose asked slyly. Then he grinned and offered: "They'll be back in two weeks."
For the next fortnight - if Rose's luck holds - the daily tableau will unfold essentially as it had this days expectancy, followed by delight when shaking of heads as thousands of fans say," Way to go, Pete. Too bad it's impossible."
Rose is not so sure.Those odds that now say he's a 91-1 shot to pass DiMaggio's 56-game streak look tasty to him. "How do I get a bet down on me?" he joked.
On a more pragmatic level, Rose has managed the essential task of setting intermediate goals to help him scale the towering day-by-day ladder to 56 and beyond.
"It ain't too soon to start thinking about Ty Cobb," Rose said, referring to Cobb's 40-game streat - third longest of the 20th Century.
So what has Rose been doing to get himself in the mood to pass the Georgia Peach 7 "Been readin' Cobb's Life story at night," Rose said. "You know, we're a lot alike. Couple of rotten guys."
Rose has always cultivated the Cobb connection. This season he can get his 10th 200-hit season, breaking a tie with Cobb. Also, Rose could pead the league in hits for the seventh time - breaking another Cobb record.
"Seems like I'm breaking a lot of his records," observed Rose, who would love to do for Cobb what Hank Aron did for Babe Ruth.
The enormous difference between Cobb the combatant and Rose the Red was on display today. Cobb earned the hate of his foes; Rose is reaping their affection.
"I got the feeling Pete is gonna get DiMag's record," said Met Manager Joe Toree. "I'll be rooting for him."
Three ex-Reds, now Mets, sent Rose a note before the game, telling him they hoped his streak would never stop.
One of the three, Joel Youngblood, drove home five runs yesterday to decide the game - noteworth, also for Johnny Bench's 300th home run, making that Cincinnati veteran the second catcher in major league history to reach that figure (yogi Berra was the other.)
Afterward, Youngblood would talk only of Rose - his idel.
"I have always used his model bat and glove. When I was a rookie he treated me better than I ever dreamed anybody could," bubbled Youngblood.
As Youngblood rounded the bases after a two-run homer, he knew Rose wanted to slap his hand as he passed third, but wouldn't. "It's against his code," said Youngblood.
Instead, Rose picked up a handful of dirt and threw it all over Youngblood's pants as he passed.
Rose's double, a wicked liner up the right-center gap, split the difference between Elliott Madox and center fielder Youngblood.
"I'm glad I didn't have a chance for it," said Youngblood.
Could he have brought himself to make a great, diving robbery of a catch? "Don't ask me that," he pleaded. "Just say it might have bounded out of my glove."
Rose's greatest joy from his new record is not that his locker is filled with telegrams, nor that NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle bought him a bottle of champagne at a midnight supper after his 38th straight hit game.
Rose's pride is that every Met player - down to the scrubs - has congratulated him.
Many have posed for snapshots with him. Then Rose adds, almost confused, "except Lee Mazzilli."
The words almost seem etched in Rose's face, "What have I done to Mazzilli?"
Rose knows Cobb would never have cared about the Mazzillis of the world.
"One of Ty's old roomies told me that the Yankees cussed Cobb pretty good as he came up the tunnel through their dugout one day," Rose related. "So in batting practice - they didn't have cages then - Ty ripped 16 straight liners into their dugout."
"Now I'd never do that," said Rose, his smile almost bursting his face as he prepared the kicker, "'cause I ain't too good a thitting' foul balls.'"
If baseball has had an old-fashioned heartwaring tale this year, it is the way Rose has handled his streak, thrived on it.
"I've seen guys hid from the fans, the press, everybody, when they went through something like this," said Red pitcher Tom Seaver. "But Pete's the best guy in the world for this to happen to.
"He completely separates the streak from the larger business of the team winning. They're two separate entities and he makes sure that one never interferes with the other."
Seaver could not resist contrasting that with the way Reggie Jackson of the Yankees is constantly able to make his latest squabble, success or failure the center of everyone's attention.
"I saw Reggie's quote the other day," Seaver, said laughing, about how his problems were "because of the mabnitude of being me."
"That sounds like a song, doesn't it - 'The Magnitude of Me.'"
Rose has managed to make his streak an integral part of the proper playing of the game. When opposing players have done fishy things - playing poor percentage baseball just to try to stop his streak - he has blown 'the whistle on them loudly.'
He has publicly scrutinized himself just as hard, pointing out every juncture when he has had to make a choice between a greedy swing or proper team play.
"There's just one way to play this game. That's what I've lived by," said Rose. "And I won't change for no batting streak."
Rose and Seaver agree on one essential: both believe Rose will play better the longer his streak lasts.
"I'm going to go'oh fer' one of these days," says Rose, who next faces tough Philadelphia southpaws Steve Carlton and Randy Lerch in a twinight doubleheader tomorrow in Cincinnati. "But I'm not going to chile. The closer I get, the more revived up I'll be.