Peace broke out in Billy Martin Thursday night. The wayward son, born 15 minutes from here, put down the torch he has carried for the Yankees, who twice broke his heart. Near midnight Thursday, after two hours of gentle banter with a stream of visitors in his office, Martin said softly, "For the first time in my life, I'm at home . . . I will stay here a long time."

Feet propped on his desk, still in his uniform after losing to the Yankees again, Martin rambled through philosophy and tactics, nostalgia and friendship. This was not barbed-wire Billy Martin, this was a man who at 52 would buy a dozen marshmallows before he'd hit anybody. Other nights, in other defeats, Billy Martin destroyed a lot of things, including himself. Not this night.

On this night, Billy Martin said losing hurt, sure. "Worry about a man who cries," he said. "Like a wounded lion goes into the dense jungle. Now you got to go in after him. I've been a wounded lion all my life. I have lots of hurts, lots of scars. I wanted this playoff badly."

He saw Roy Eisenhardt, the A's president.

"I wanted it for you people . . . . I'm very fortunate to have owners that don't rant and rave when they lose. You really care about these players. Stick with us, Roy, because someday you'll be laughing and the other side will be crying."

For two hours, Martin sat in his uniform. He showed a picture of his son, Billy Joe, the football player. He gave a flower to his catcher, and he reassured his center fielder that a bonehead play really wasn't that bad; he said he loved his guys who tried to play hurt while the Yankees had "a monster 'limping' who didn't even play."

The Yankee limping was Reggie Jackson.

"Sparkplug of the Yankees" . . . "Torch of the Twins" . . . "Baseball's Fiery Genius" -- this is the Martin of magazine covers on his wall, always in a different team's uniform. The covers date from 1956 to 1981, a reminder of the truth considered eternal: Martin always wins, but in a fit of inevitable self-destruction he spoils the success and gets fired. No more.

"I did something tonight I haven't ever done before," Martin said as reporters, players and friends came by to see how he stood up to the quick embarrassment by the Yankees.

"I went to the other clubhouse," Martin said, "and shook the manager's hand. I've never done that after losing. I hate to get beat."

Why do it this time?

"Because I wanted to show there's no animosity and it's no big deal, the way people have been trying to make it. Give the Yankees credit. They beat us."

At that moment, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner appeared.

"You never gave up, you little rat," said the man who twice hired Martin to manage the Yankees and twice fired him.

"Super, George, super," Martin said.

Steinbrenner hugged Martin and whispered in his ear.

"Bring the glory to the American League," Martin said.

"Come to New York on Tuesday," Steinbrenner said. The World Series starts then. After Steinbrenner left, Martin said he wouldn't go to the Series. He'll go hunting -- "for Yankee ducks, in pin stripes" -- and in silence will think how to improve the A's.

"Out there alone," he said, "it's like a TV set going in front of your forehead. I can see everything that happened. I don't look at stats. By looking at that camera all winter, I have my notes up here . . ."

Tapping his temple.

Rick Bosetti, the reserve center fielder who misplayed a fly ball into a three-run double, came to Martin. He wouldn't look Martin in the eye.

"You did all right," Martin said, rising. "That was a hit all the way."

Bosetti didn't believe it. "Yeah."

"This spring, your butt is mine," Martin said.

"Promise?" Bosetti said, and the manager said it was a promise, and the kid looked at him before leaving.

With five teams, Martin made losers winners, none more remarkably created than these A's, who two seasons ago lost 108 games. When Charlie Finley hired Martin, it seemed a signal Martin was a pariah, welcome only in baseball's hellhole.

Then Finley sold to Walter Haas, whose family owns Levi-Strauss Co., a pillar of Oakland for a century. Haas' son, Wally, and son-in-law, Eisenhardt, run the franchise.

Wisely, they gave Martin total baseball authority.

Martin's single-mindedness produces victories. It also put him at loggerheads with some general managers. Martin turned every conflict into war.

Here's why: "I coached an Army team, 1955 or '56, and we played the Boeing Bombers at Wichita, Kan. Terrible hot day. I wanted to take our pitcher out, but the shortstop, Dick Dickinson, said, 'Leave him in, he's okay.'

"So I left him in. Next pitch, home run. I come back to the mound and tell Dickinson, 'That's the last time anybody ever talks me out of anything.' "

It was. "I know where we're going here and how we're getting here. I have no qualms about my managing. It comes naturally. I may change my mind about a player's personality, but not the way I manage."

The A's catcher, Mike Heath, came by.

"I love you," Martin said. "You watch, we'll be doing the kicking butt next year."

"Yes, sir," Heath said.

"Give this to your wife," Martin said, picking up a flower off his desk.

"This?" Heath said, as if the manager had given him a diamond of inestimable value.

As Heath left, Martin said, "We got some champions here."

At midnight, Reggie Jackson, limping a bit, walked past Billy Martin's office without stopping.

He was on his way to a fight.

Without Billy Martin.