At 1:41 a.m. this morning, Pittsburgh's Willie Stargell tolled his big bell for the Montreal Expos.
The Pirate patriach's 29th homer, a two-run shot far over the right center field fence, gave the Bucs a 5-3 10th-inning victory over Montreal in a game that was delayed three hours and three minutes by rain and did not end until almost 2 a.m.
Stargell's blast off Dale Murray, an accused spitball reliever who had just been frisked, unhatted and debelted by umpire Andy Olsen, gave the Pirates a sweep of this two-game series for a two-game league lead over the Expos.
At least 15,000 fans, out of the two-game major league record of 111,585 who attended this series, trudged out of Olympic Stadium in the wee hours with the disquieting knowledge that Montreal must now go on the road for 13 games in nine days.
In the NL East's war of attrition, both teams still have much suffering ahead. Both play doubleheaders later today in other cities, and have miles to go before they sleep.
At the start, this night was strictly a Bill Lee affair. In the Pittsburgh first, Lee faced seven Pirate batters and six of them hit routine ground balls -- only one hard. The other Buc singled. The result: three runs and a Lee shrug to the crowd of 56,976 as he walked off.
With men at the corners and one out, Bill Ribinson snapped a ground single past Lee to score Omar Moreno. When Expo center fielder Andre Dawson booted the ball, Dave Parker scored all the way from first.
Later, Stargell's simple trickler to third was kicked through the coach's box by Larry Parrish. Robinson then stole third with a headfirst slide when Lee's attention wandered. Lee immediately regretted it, as Bill Madlock's chop over the mound went for an infield scratch hit.
Of late, Lee, whose 15-10 record ranks him fifth in the NL in wins, has lived up to his Spaceman persons by writing a diary of the Expos for a Montreal paper -- a journal which lasted one installment before the Expo brass squelched it.
"Did you ever read 'The Dream Life of Baslo Snell' by Nathaniel West?" Lee asked his readers by way of introduction.
Much is uncertain about Lee. What remains constant is his fierce competitiveness. An attention-seeking flower child with a greying beard on the outside, Lee remains a gritty Gashouse Ganger on the inside.
On this tight-as-a-drum Expos team, which has scored just 12 runs in its previous five games, it was Lee who remembered how to swing a bat.
After Rodney Scott's leadoff double in the third, Lee, with the Buc infield expecting a bunt, ripped a groundball double over first and off the wall. When Parker's throw skipped away from Tim Foli, Lee hustled to third on the error. That tippy-toe scamper meant a run, cutting the Expo deficit to 3-2, on Warren Cromartie's sacrifice fly.
Lee knew he had his stage, mowing the Bucs down with precisely placed sinking fast balls and junk.
In the bottom of the fifth, Scott walked off starter Bruce Kison with one out, and again Lee squared to bunt. This time he smacked a perfect artificial-surface chop over third for a single, moving Scott to third.
Scott was trapped off third on a tap to the box, but then crawled back safely like a man under machinegun fire after evading Kison's tag. That loaded the bases, and rain was falling steadily.
The crowd roared for a simple two-run single, followed by an all-night deluge for a discount Expo win. But no, Cash popped up the first pitch and Dawson grounded out. Only the rain arrived -- steady and hard, causing a two hour and 54 minute delay.
The Pirates sent out for pizza and paid for it with autographed balls. Several Expos played touch football in the bullpen to stay loose. "Final score," reported Chris Speier, "was 24-10. No one's telling who won."
"We'll resume play." promised Scott. 'The umps want to get out alive."
And, at exactly midnight, they did resume play. Perhaps 20,000 fans were still in the stands, even though the last subway stops running at 1:16 a.m. Those who remained were Spaced, roaring for Lee as he returned to get three Buc ground outs on eight pitches, then pumped his glove to the crowd as he stalked off.
Kison begged off, giving way to reliever Enrique Romo. The first Expo, Tony (Big Doggie) Perez, battled him for 12 pitches, then singled. A sacrifice and red-hot Parrish's single to center tied the score, 3-3 in the sixth. Electricity.
When Lee retired for a pinch-hitter after seven innings, he had allowed only three singles to the last 23 hitters.
If the last train to the playoffs was leaving for the Expos in this a.m., Lee had done all in his power to put Montreal on board.