"God delays; He doesn't deny."

Tommy Lasorda

The World Series victory that was theirs, at last, after so many years of frustration, struck each Dodger at a different moment.

"Fifth inning," said Steve Garvey. "We'd scored those three runs, finally taken the lead. There are a few times in life you are told. I knew this was one of them, that we'd cross the finish line first. And it's taken the whole month to get there."

"Yankee sixth," said Steve Yeager. "When they had the bases loaded with one out and scored just one run, that's when I knew it was ours."

Later, when everyone in Yankee Stadium knew who would win but not by how much, Garvey could be seen alone on a dugout step, his elbow perched on one knee and his hand supporting his chin. The game still was being played in front of him; his mind was somewhere else.

"Twenty-five years of sacrifice," he said later. "Sweat, tears and a little blood. Hot weather, cold weather. I've won just about every individual honor possible, but this is the ultimate."

Why became evident in an instant, when Garvey spotted a New York reporter.

"Who won?" he yelled, with about as much emotion as he allows himself.

"You had help," the New Yorker shot back.

"We caused them, physically and mentally, to make those mistakes," said Garvey, insisting on the final word.

Which is what this triumph is all about. After failing three other times in the Series, in 1974 against Oakland and in 1977 and '78 against the Yankees, and being labeled chokers, the Garvey-Cey-Lopes-Russell-Yeager Dodger cornerstone wanted desperately to crow just once before being broken up.

That came Wednesday.

"They've called us a lot of things," Davey Lopes said. "Now they're going to have to call us winners. I don't care what they do. Trade me. Whatever. I got my ring. They can't take that away. We did it. We may not have looked good doing it, but we're the world champions."

They were not quite acting that way. There was champagne, but nearly everybody sipped the stuff instead of pouring it over each other for the first hour. The immediate emotion seemed more relief than joy. The Dodgers had not always been gracious losers; they were classy winners.

Or perhaps their month of comebacks had drained them more than even they realized. Down to Houston, they won; down to Montreal, they won; down to the Yankees, they won four straight. The greater the prize, the more subdued the celebration.

"Winning it here, in Yankee Stadium, was special," Garvey said. "To lay to rest all the criticism here meant a lot. It would have been nice to win it in front of our fans (he threw his head back in laughter) but I think they'll forgive us."

The Dodgers are pluggers. There was no less elegant infield in the playoffs. But no infield ever stayed together longer, or probably won more games, if not championships. They are best seen through the third baseman, and nobody ever earned a nickname more than Ron Cey did Penguin.

Cey has suffered a broken wrist and been beaned in the last two months. Dizzy spells forced him out of the ultimate victory during the sixth inning, but there he was in the clubhouse, swigging what had to be more bubbly than he felt.

"Gun shy?" he said, repeating a question. "Did it look like it?"

Certainly not. The first time up after his head had stopped a 94-mile-per-hour pitch by Goose Gossage three days earlier, Cey stroked a line-drive single to left. He struck out, swinging, the next time up, then chopped an RBI single that second baseman Willie Randolph could not control on the shortstop side of the bag.

The dizzy spells began a few moments later, after Cey waddled to third on a Dusty Baker single and scored on Pedro Guerrero's triple.

"I couldn't get rid of them," he said. "There were a couple. I never had any trouble on the bases or in the field. Fortunately. To have blacked out between bases or something would have been a disaster. But they didn't hit me 'till I got to the bench."

The last bit of dizziness came during the Yankee fifth, after he caught Jerry Mumphrey's soft liner. Playing any more would have been too great a risk, he reasoned.

"I came in here (to the clubhouse)," he said, "and the doctor checked me one more time."

Had his playing at all been an inspiration to the team?

"I don't know," he said, "but if you want to write that, fine."

Cey's outlook on life has changed dramatically.

"The most important thing Sunday morning was to win Game 5," he said. "The most important thing Sunday night was just to be home sitting with my family. We all know about death. Some play with it, laugh at it. But when he decides to play with you, it's a bit scary. One way to negate him at the plate is with an ear flap."

His feelings on being named one of three Series most valuable players?

"I'm glad it didn't come posthumously."

The champagne was working. Cey was feeling mellow.

"Tired, dizzy and absolutely terrific," he said.

Lasorda was hugging everyone in sight.

"Last year, I presented the Series MVP award," he said. "I looked at (Phillies Manager) Dallas Green that day and told him: 'Uneasy is the head that wears the crown. Beware in '81. We're comin' after you.' "

By now, nearly two hours after the final out, the Dodgers were getting wildly giddy. Mike Scioscia started it by connecting a water hose, turning it on full blast and playing fireman through half the room. Then the 6-5 clown who won Game 5, Jerry Reuss, screamed:

"Food Fight."

The animals went daffy, after one another with whipped cream and catsup, mustard, mayonnaise and a few small onions. When last seen, Reuss was soggy in his underwear, dabbed in reds and yellows. He was what he wanted most to be in his major-league life: a champion hot dog, to go.