Earthquake watchers around the world were relieved to learn that the tremor yesterday was merely the largest athletic sigh in years. It came from the Philadelphia Phillies, the pholdin phlops of the year by some estimates but who phinally won the game they needed to clinch the National League East championship.

"It's wonderful to be a child again," yelled catcher Tim McCarver as he doused everyone in sight with champagne. "Now that's childlike, not childish."

Several of the players, the quiet, reflective ones such as Bob Boone and Garry Maddox, walked about the clubhouse shaking their heads in satisfaction and muttering to themselves: "This was the year of the struggle. Nobody said this is an easy business."

The Phils had won the divisional championship the last two years, and when they did not assure their third trip to the playoffs by July doubters began to surface. Loud ones. Then an 11 1/2-game lead Aug 12 began to shrink, not because the Phils were playing terrible but because the Pittsburgh Pirates were inspired.

And when the Phils, needing one victory in four games here, botched a doubleheader Friday to the Pirates on some of the dumbest plays of the decade, when the aces of the staff could not win, well . . .

"That wasn't an apple the Phils swallowed," one Philadelphia columnist wrote. "That was the entire orchard."

When the Pirates won both games in the ninth Friday on mistakes rarely seen beyond Little League, some sort of mystical script seemed to be playing to the damndest conclusion in memory.

And when Willie Stargell - representing the tying run - stepped to the plate in the last of the ninth yesterday, thoughts of yet another miracle comeback danced through more than the minds of Pirate fans.

The Pirates already had scored four runs in the ninth and the Phils' Greg Luzinski recalled thinking: "The man had hit a three-run job Friday night and a grand slammer today. He's a pro. He does his job. He's their leader."

It was the tensest moment of an especially tense series, the Pirate hero with that special swagger digging in against the Phillie reliever who had lost the first of those goofy games Friday, Ron Reed.

"Was I afraid the momentum had gone to the Pirates?" said Tug McGraw, who surrendered those four last-inning runs. "Was I scared they'd catch us again and win?"


Stargell took a typically mighty cut at the first pitch and missed. He fouled off the second pitch. Then Reed teased him with outside junk - and all of a sudden the Pirate dream was over. Stargell tried to check his swing but could not and was a strikeout victim. Phil Garner grounded to short and the Phils began a hug-in.

How the Phils won yesterday was appropriate. Their hitters managed to take much of the year off, but had one last explosion left. Mostly, it was a matter of the Bull grabbing the horns. Or so he said.

"We needed a hit and I came through," said Luzinski. "I thought: 'Let's go. Let's grab this leadership by the horns. Let's go.'"

What he did was send a Grant Jackson fast ball so hard and so high that the Pirate left fielder did not bother to turn and watch it land in the first level of stands. From two runs down and having left eight men stranded, the Phils were two runs ahead in the sixth.

Pirate fans had stopped believing in the Pirates in early August and had not fully taken them to their hearts yesterday. Possibly certain that Friday's freakish victories could not be repeated 15,000 fewer customers were on hand.

And when Richie Hebner smacked a three-run double down in the line right to lift the Phils to a 10-4 lead in the eight, scores of fans began to drift toward the exists.

There still was much drama left. The Pirates had won their last 24 games here, had outscored the opposition by 57 runs in the last 14 games in Three Rivers Stadium before yesterday.

Ultimately, though, those who left quickest had been right. Six runs in two innings was too much to overcome. Hebner's hit had been fatal. The gravedigger's kid had tamped the final bit of dirt on their Bucs.