It took just seconds for Joe Morgan's home run to drift 600 miles down the coast of California today. Sitting at the far end of the Atlanta Braves dugout, pitcher Tommy Boggs caught it on his radio.
"I ran down the bench screaming about it. The guys went nuts," Boggs said.
Suddenly, it did not matter that the Braves were one out away from losing the last game of the season, 5-1, to the San Diego Padres today before 19,412 at Jack Murphy Stadium.
What did matter was that Morgan's home run with two on and two out in the seventh inning gave the San Francisco Giants a 5-3 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Consequently, it also gave the Braves the championship of the National League's West Division.
The second-place Dodgers needed both an Atlanta defeat and a Los Angeles victory today to tie the Braves and force a one-game divisional playoff Monday night at Dodger Stadium. But the 1981 World Series champions only got half of what they wanted.
The Braves got all of what they wanted. They will play the Cardinals Wednesday in St. Louis in the league championship series opener.
"If you have to lose, this is a fun way to do it," Atlanta center fielder Dale Murphy said.
After the most celebrated 5-1 defeat in Atlanta history, the Braves closed the clubhouse doors to watch the Giants finish off the Dodgers on television.
When the doors finally opened -- and closed on the Dodgers -- a wide-angle picture of Atlanta revelry appeared. There was team owner Ted Turner treading in champagne and hugging Manager Joe Torre. There was reliever Steve Bedrosian running around like a joyous madman, covered with chili, and yelling, "Food fight."
And there was calm veteran Bob Watson, a former New York Yankee, saying, "This team has gone through so much. We've endured. No one expected us to be here."
There was also Phil Niekro, 43, the knuckleballer who will start in the first game of the championship series, talking about being the sole survivor from the Braves' last division winner. Niekro said, "Thirteen years is a long time. In 1969, we lost three straight in the playoffs to the Mets. I don't want a repeat."
The Braves talked as much about how the players learned of Morgan's home run as they talked about the Padres' five-run fifth inning.
Torre, in his first year as Braves manager, said, "Jerry Royster came running into the dugout after he flied out in the ninth and he was smiling. He said the Giants had two on and none out. I don't know how he knew it."
Royster, the Atlanta third baseman, explained, "When I was hitting, (Padres catcher) Terry Kennedy told me what was happening in San Francisco. He said someone was listening to the Dodgers game on the radio in their dugout."
With two out in the ninth inning, the count went 1-1 on Atlanta pinch hitter Matt Sinatro, who was about to make the game's final out. Then a crazy thing happened: cheering in the losing dugout.
So Sinatro stepped out of the box. "I heard the noise but I didn't know what was happening," he said.
"I was giving high five," Royster said.
The Braves gave up five -- runs, that is -- in the fifth when the Padres overcame Terry Harper's fourth-inning homer to take a 5-1 lead.
With Atlanta starter Rick Camp (11-11) pitching a shutout, San Diego's Tony Gwynn began the fifth with a foul fly down the line that left fielder Harper dropped.
"I had a bad feeling when Harper dropped that," Torre said.
His feeling would get worse. Gwynn singled. Then came the play that could have cost the Braves the division title. Broderick Perkins hit a ground ball off Camp's glove toward second. "It was definitely going to be a double play," San Diego Manager Dick Williams said.
But the hard hit grounder hit the thigh of umpire Bob Engel, who was standing on the infield grass near second, and stopped dead. The double play become an infield single.
"I saw the ball off the bat, then I lost it momentarily," Engel said. "It would have been nicer if it happened in a nice 8-1 game in Chicago in the middle of August."
Tim Flannery followed with a single, loading the bases. Then Camp walked San Diego pitcher Tim Lollar (16-9), forcing in the run that tied it, 1-1. Alan Wiggins then tripled down the left-field line, scoring three runs. Harper failed to cut off the ball halfway down the line. As it rolled past him to the wall, the three runners circled the bases.
Turner was sitting behind the Atlanta dugout and later expressed his fifth-inning feelings: "I just had to sit there and watch. I had no control. It wasn't like I was sitting on my yacht."
Later Gene Richards added a sacrifice fly to score Wiggins and it was 5-1. In the Atlanta seventh, San Diego reliever Dave Dravecky held the Braves scoreless, escaping a bases-loaded, none-out situation. Dravecky got pinch hitter Rufino Linares on a pitcher-to-home force play, pinch hitter Bob Horner on a shallow fly to center and Claudell Washington on a strikeout.
The Braves would not rally again until the news of Morgan's homer hit the Southern California airwaves.
Amidst the bubbles of baseball glory, Watson smiled and, perhaps speaking for all of Georgia today said, "I think Joe Morgan deserves the comeback player of the year award.