The ball hung in the night sky as high as the tallest light tower in Memorial Stadium.
"It was so high it looked like you could take a thousand pictures of it," said Ed Ott, who was sitting in the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen.
"We were all pulling, pulling, pulling. We tried to inhale it over the fence. It stayed up there like the moon in the sky."
When Willie Stargell's sixth-inning home run fell -- over the fence and into the grasping hands of his mates -- the Piratges rose to a world championship, beating Baltimore, 4-1, in the seventh game of the World Series.
Stargell, 38-year-old captain and patriarch of these Buccaneers, ended a Series tonight that has been his private stage throughout.
Tonight, he crushed the Baltimore Orioles with a single, two doubles and that towering two-run game-winning homer that began the transformation of a 1-0 Bird lead into a Pirate victory.
By night's end, Stargell had set a Series record for most extra base hits (seven) and tied Reggie Jackson's total-base mark in the '77 Series (25).
Carried by Stargell's .400 hitting, and his stoic leadership, the Bucs became the fourth team in modern baseball history to come back to win the Series after trailing three games to one.
Others played their Pirate parts tonight -- Grant Jackson with a victory in relief and Kent Tekulve with five final outs of saving relief for his third save of the Series.
However, one moment capsulized this classic finale.
With Bill Robinson on first base in the Pirate sixth, and O's starter McGregor leading, 1-0, the Bucs were restless.
"Come on, Pops, Smoke one," pleaded Pirate Manager Chuck Tanner. "You gotta get us out of the gate."
The Orioles, thanks to a Rich Dauer home run in the third inning, seemed finally to have come to life after two miserably flat games in which they were thumped, 7-1 and 4-0.
Stargell put them back to sleep. OnMcGregor's first pitch -- a rather well-placed sweeping curve ball low and away -- Stargell unleashed one of the mortar lunches that have brought him 471 home runs in 18 Pirate seasons.
"when Willie hits 'em," said Tanner, "they just keep carrying."
But not this one.
"At first, we thought it was gone." said Ott. "Then, it just seemed to die. All we could do was hold our breath."
"If Ken Singleton had gotten back to the fence quicker," said Pirate pitcher Jim Rooker, "he might have had it. It only cleared by about three feet or less."
When Stargell's blast landed -- just beyond the 378-foot sign for his third homer of the Series (the entire Pirate total), the bullpen crew began hollering. "It's ours. It's ours."
One voice did not join them: Rooker's. He knew better, and he was almost right.
"I didn't want to move, or say anythin," said Rooker. "I knew Baltimore would't quit."
The Orioles may have been comatose for much of these final three defeats -- scoring just two runs in their last 28 innings and getting just four hits tonight off four Pirate hurlers. But they didn't quit.
In the eight, thanks to two walks by Jackson, a ground out, and an intertional walk to Singleton, the O's had the bases loaded with Tekulve facing cleanup man Eddie Murray.
What a microcosm of this entire Series -- and a distressing one for the Orioles. Murray came to the plate in the deepest of the miserable slumps, zero for 20.
He had company. Al Bumbry ended the Classic two for 20, and Gary Roenicke one for 14, but Murray was the most hopeless.
To his credit, Murray managed a liner to right field. But Dave Parker gobbled it easily. The worst that can be said of the Orioles is that their entire offense tonight consisted of Dauer's homer and that futile fly out by Murray.
And so, we learn once more that sport, when it is most poignantly lifelike, takes on the form, if not the substance, of tragedy.
For three straight games, Oriole pitchers took the mound nobly -- Mike Flanagan, Jim Palmer and McGregor.
Each was betrayed by his fielders and left bereft of runs by his offense. Each battled evenly to middle innings and each was a loser in the end.
The final Oriole indignity -- and there were many, especially for the infielders of these tangle-footed Birds -- came in the ninth.
Manager Earl Weaver, desperate to hold the score at just a 2-1 deficit, called in five pitchers in one inning. It was a pathetic and useless exercise that merely dragged out a sense of utter Oriole disintegration as Omar Moreno and Robinson drove in the final runs -- Robinson simply by getting hit with a pitch.
By the end, the Orioles seemed like intruders in some play where Stargell and the rest of the family had all the meaty parts. By the bottom of the ninth, this stadium, packed with 53,733, was so quiet that you could hear Wever's tomato plants growing in his left field corner garden.
Stargell's magic evening had the aspect of a command performance with President Carter sitting in a first base box seat. The sign on the marquee says, "Wilver Stargell -- Superstar." Tonight was just the closing performance.
Exactly one month ago, in the depths of a chill Canadian a.m., it seemed that the baseball fates looked down on the old, aching and kindhearted Stargell and said, "We have not done right by this man."
Although a hero in Pittsburgh, Stargell's national reputation, if it could be called that, was as the man who had struck out more than any player in history.
For the past marvelous month -- exactly 30 days -- Stargell has played like a blissfully content baseball Buddha.
Stargell's amazing streak of heroics began on Sept. 18. "I went to Willie that day," said Tanner, "and told him, 'Big man, you gotta go all the way now'"
What Tanner meant was no more rest for the weary Stargell, who plays with a corset for his backaches. Tanner has just one star on his hat -- awarded by Stargell when the manager gave him a rare day off.
"I've been expecting him to take it back from me for the last month," joked Tanner. "He's had to go every day."
And what man, let alone a baseball relic who was considered almost washed up two years ago after a bad season, ever had such a Cinderella month when every pitcher looked like a helpless carriage mouse?
On that Sept. 18 date, Stargell broke up an extra-inning marathon against Montreal with a home run at near 2 a.m.
A few days later, he greeted the Expos with two homers in his first two swings. On the last day of the season, who was there to hit a pennant-clinching homer but Stargell?
In the first playoff game against Cincinnati, who hit the game-winning homer in the 11th but Stargell. And in the final playoff win, there was Stargell again with a homer and three runs batted in.
Carl Yastrzemski's streak at the end of Boston's "Impossible Dream" season of 1967 usually is cited as the greatest example of one star carrying an entire team in September and October in recent decades.
Stargell may have surpassed that feat. No wonder his back hurts -- 24 Pirates are heavy.
"I've run out of stars to award," said Stargell tonight.
Although Stargell was the unanimous choice as Series most valuable player, several other Pirates could bask in a reflected glory. Tekulve had his three saves, but it was the entire Pirate hitting attack that was most impressive.
The Buc team mark -- .323 -- was the second highest in Series history, surpassed only by the (losing) 1960 New York Yankees (.338). Phil Garner, who ran his hitting streak (counting postseason) to 24 games (longest in the majors this season) finished with a .500 mark (12 for 24).
While the Pirates celebrated, the Orioles did not mourn.
"I'm not going to pout," said McGregor, who, except for one curve that was not quite good enough, might have been a 1-0 shutout Series hero. "I may party, too."
The fans who remained in Memorial Stadium at midnight felt the same.
The banner under Section 34 read: "Win or Lose, it's no disgrace. You've stolen our hearts and that's all it takes."
Dozens of police kept the hundreds of fans away from the Oriole dugout, but, finally, the Birds began reemerging into the nearly empty stadium.
Ken Singleton, who had 10 Series hits, but never got to swing a bat when he was walked intentionally in that eighth inning when what might have been the winning runs were in scoring position, reached over the heads of the police and grabbed one hand after another.
The few hundred remaining faithful began to spell. Not "S-T-A-R-G-E-L-L," the name that was on a nation's lips.
Instead, it was "O-R-I-O-L-E-S" that they chanted.
The sky was black with no moon in sight. It had gone down, fallen, just like Stargell's home run. Just like the final curtain.