Pete Rose's gritty hitting streak finally reached the point yesterday when it had a clean, lyrical, long-lasting ring to it.
Second longest streak of modern times.
After ripping three singles in the first four innings of Cincinnati's 6-2 victory over Philadelphia. Rose had pushed his skein to 42 games - and eliminated a great deal of clutter.
True, two 1890s stars. "Bad" Bill Dahlen (42 games in 1894) and "Wee" Willie Keeler (44 in 1897), are still in Rose's company.
But only nit-pickers will claim the sport of Dahlen and Keeler bears much resemblance to that of Rose.
Keeler's entire Baltimore Oriole team, for instance, hit .325 in those years when foul balls did not count against a batter as strikes.
No, Rose has now reached the point where only Joe DiMaggio's incredible 56-game streak stands as a greater milestone to consistency, nerve and luck.
"Yeah, this is my greatest single-season accomplishment," said Rose, who has won three batting titles. "My greatest pride is that I am an entertainer who gives his best every day. Consistency is my gift as an athlete, and this steak is certainly the best testimony to that."
Rose could have begged off yesterday with a small injury, as DiMaggio did during his streak. Rose's right hand was so sore that he winced whenever anyone shoot it. And it was shaken constantly.
However, Rose never dreamed of disappointing the 49.108 fans in Riverfront Stadium. "It only hurts when I squeeze it," he said. "Well, yeah, like when I squeeze the bat."
As if a sore hand wasn't bad enough, Rose had to face the best educated battery in the National League - Stanford graduates Jim Lonborg and Bob Boone - who had a special pitching strategy cooked up.
"We're going to throw it down the pipe," Boone said before the game. "We think that may be the best way to get him out.
"Rose has a computerized mind. If you throw to the edges of the plate, he hits it where it's pitched. A so-called 'pitch in a good spot' only helps him make up his mind where to hit it.
"Lonnie and I have just about decided that Pete's only weakness is the heart of the plate. Then he has to decide where to hit it. Challenge him; don't finesse him."
Sorry, Stanford. Rose lashed a 3-0 cripple to left field for a clean single to open the Reds' first inning and perhaps cost NBC-TV a few million viewers whose question for the day had just been answered, pronto.
In the second against Lonborg, Rose beat out an infield hit behind second. In the fourth, southpaw Jim Kaat laid a curve down the pipe and Rose almost knocked his cap off with a line drive to center.
"Pete Rose makes me look in the mirror," said the Phils' homer champ, Mike Schmidt."If what he's giving is 100 percent, then my 100 percent must be coming up short.
Rose, typically, was most interested in talking about his fourth at-bat, when he grounded out with the Reds six runs ahead.
"If I'd gone four for four, I'd have moved into the lead for the batting title by a point," said Rose, astounding his listeners. "(Jeff) Burroughs started the day at 3173 and Jackie Clark at 3172."
How did he know that?" When I went to Western Hills High," snapped Rose, "they taught me how to read.
"And," he added, grinning, "I can afford a paper."
The Phils marvel at Rose's casual, joking attitude toward chasing the most inaccessible record in the game, perhaps in sports.
"When I tied the NL fielding record for shortstops with 54 errorless games," said Phil Bud Harrelson, "I was so tight in the 55th game that you could beat on me like a drum.
"Rose hit a simple grounder to me and it bounced off me like I was a pillar. I don't see how Rose can love this so much."
Rose's new experience for the day was swinging and missing - once. "Let's see," Rose said, adding on his fingers. "Been a long time since I swung and missed."
The last time, it turned out, was 10 days ago.
Rose's worry yesterday was that his work would overshadow that of teammates George Foster (two-run homer) and Paul Moskau (eight shutout innings pitched and a three-run homer).
"Foster hit the longest homer I ever saw (nearly 500 feet into the top-deck red seats). I could hit it twice and not get it that far," said Rose.
Rose apologized profusely for getting a hit on the 3-0 pitch in the first inning. "I don't usually swing in that situation," he said, "but they mssed up the 'take' sign. They never gave it."
The reason was Manager Sparky Anderson's superstition. "I always walk toward my right as the pitch comes to Pete," said Anderson. "That is, until he gets a hit. I'd be afraid to stop doing it."
However, in the first inning Anderson had walked so far to his right that he was at the opposite end of the bench from Alex Grammas, the middle-man coach who relays Anderson's signs to the field.
"I don't know whether my superstition helps him or not," said Anderson. "But I know it got him a hit today."
Though Rose insists he will not address himself to the DiMaggio question until he passes Keeler, others are not so shy.
"He's got it right now," said fiesty Phil Larry Bowa. "He's gonna get 57. I can feel it! I don't think Larry (Christenson) is going to stop him Sunday. Pete kills sinker ball ptichers. Then the Reds have 13 games with Atlanta and San Diego."
Anderson demured: "Pete's toughest time is coming. The Braves and Padres may not have the top staffs, but they're loaded with left-handers and Pete has always hit righties better."
The Rose odds have changed dramatically.He is even money to pass Keeler; 27 to 1 to tie DiMaggio and 34 to 1 to pass him. The odds before the streak started were more than 2 million to 1.