The San Diego Padres brought dignity to themselves and drama to the National League playoffs by beating the Chicago Cubs, 7-1, tonight in Game 3 to stay alive in this championship series.

After Ed Whitson's eight valorous innings on the mound, Garry Templeton's inspirational play and Kevin McReynolds' exclamation point of a three-run homer, the 58,346 fans here stayed in their seats -- to sing.

"Who ya gonna call?" asked the lyric in the movie "Ghostbusters" which blasted over the PA system.

"Cubsbusters!" roared thousands of Padres fans.

The Cubs, on the edge of a three-game sweep to reach their first World Series since 1945, were fairly busted this twilight evening.

They had their chances in the first three innings against Whitson, then faded fast. The Padres, embarrassed, 17-2, in two defeats in Wrigley Field, scored three runs in the fifth and four more in the sixth to make a loser of the Cubs' Dennis Eckersley.

From the moment that Padres shortstop Templeton broke San Diego's self-inflicted tension with a clutch two-run double to left to give his team a 2-1 lead in that fifth, the gang in brown and mustard seemed to be a new club.

If the Cubs were inspired by their Wrigley fanatics, the Padres may have been brought to life here by their partisans.

"The crowd was a big influence," said San Diego Manager Dick Williams. "Last night when we got back here late to the park -- we'd been delayed a couple of hours getting out of Chicago -- we had about 3,000 people waiting for us. It surprised us. We all got caught up in the emotion."

That adrenaline rush, desperately needed by a Padres team that has been dormant since a controversial brawl on Aug. 12, carried over to this pleasant Southern California evening.

When the mercurial Templeton was the last Padre introduced to the crowd, he waved his arm and incited the throng so much that the Lettermen had to delay the start of the National Anthem until they could hear their pitch pipe.

"I was trying to get the fans to rally behind us, but most of all I wanted to get my teammates going. I saw our guys just standing there and I thought I'd do something to fire them up," said Templeton, known as Jump Steady. "Somebody's got to do it. It worked for the Cubs in Chicago."

Templeton did more than wave his arm. He dove to rob Bull Durham of an RBI hit to end the first inning, then added a hot dog somersault to the play to get the crowd jumpin'.

Then, in the fifth, with two on and one out, he turned the game. The notorious first-pitch fast ball hitter jumped on a first-pitch fast ball (smart call, catcher Jody Davis?) for a double up the alley. That hit not only gave San Diego its first lead of the playoffs but, according to Williams, allowed the Padres not to pinch hit for Whitson, who was the next due batter.

Then Alan Wiggins and Graig Nettles followed Templeton's example with sharp RBI hits to deposit Eckersley in the showers and send the largest baseball crowd in the history of Jack Murphy Stadium into paroxysms of delight.

Cub fans may have generations of suffering to bemoan, but San Diegoans have gotten some raw deals, too. The Padres have existed for 16 years and this is the first time they've ever won more than they lost.

The conclusive Padres blow was a three-run homer an inning later by strapping center fielder McReynolds, who somehow drove a sinker by George Frazier over the 327-foot sign in left despite cracking his bat on the pitch.

When these playoffs continue at 8:25 p.m. (EDT) on Saturday, with the Cubs still leading two games to one, the probable starters are Chicago's Scott Sanderson against southpaw Tim Lollar.

In 15 years of NL championship series history, eight previous teams have won the first two games; six swept while two won in four games. None lost the series and none even needed a fifth game.

However, as every Cubs fan in existence knows by now, one American League team proved that you could go up, 2-0, then lose: the California Angels of 1982, who won two at home, just as the Cubs have, then lost three in a row in Milwaukee.

"I think we're going to go on ahead and beat 'em," said the perhaps injudicious Templeton. "I think the pressure's on them."

Winner Whitson, a 31-year-old journeyman right-hander who had never won more than 11 games in a season before this year when he learned a palm ball, stranded four Cubs in the first three innings, then found his rhythm and allowed only five hits and one run in his eight innings.

"This is the happiest I have ever been," beamed Whitson.

"We didn't have a lot of good swings off Whitson," admitted Cubs Manager Jim Frey. "He had us off stride all night long."

And overanxious, too, it appeared as the Cubs seemed worried about the wide plate of home plate umpire Terry Bovey, one of the college-league sub umps still working the playoffs.

Goose Gossage worked the ninth, just for effect, striking out the Bull and the Penguin -- Messrs. Durham and (Ron) Cey.

Even one-sided games, like this rout and the Cubs' 13-0 win in Game 1, usually have turning points. The crisis came early in this battle.

The Cubs started the second inning as though they would show again why they scored 11 runs off Whitson in 11 innings in the regular season. Keith Moreland lined a double into the left field corner and scored on Cey's crisp single to center. Davis then singled to left and the Cubs looked headed for Big Inning country.

But Whitson escaped. Larry Bowa fouled off one sacrifice bunt, then popped out and Eckersley bunted pathetically right back to Whitson. Bob Dernier lashed a liner, but all it found was Templeton's glove.

"Ultimately," said Frey, "scoring only one run that inning hurt us a lot."

After those three straight hits, Whitson faced only two men over the minimum in his last six innings. Grab your chance; it may never come again.

With the top of the Padres order finally awakening -- Wiggins got two hits and batting champion Tony Gwynn had a single to left, a single to right and a double to center -- Eckersley seemed in constant middle-inning trouble.

Singles by Terry Kennedy and McReynolds preceded Templeton's game-winning double in the fifth while singles by Gwynn, Nettles (knocking out Eckersley) and Kennedy (RBI) set the stage for the final rally in the sixth.

Perhaps Frey's choice of Frazier for mound duty in October was less than propitious. After all, Frazier is the only honest man ever to lose three games in the same World Series (for the '81 Yankees). Frey didn't study under Bob Lemon, did he? This time, Frazier's lousy luck remained intact.

Even McReynolds was surprised when he golfed a low Frazier sinker toward the left field corner. "I didn't think it was going out. It wouldn't have in Wrigley Field (where the corner is 353 feet, not 327).

This game-icing homer might not have left Jack Murphy Stadium either if Gary Matthews had made the same kind of fabulous leaping catch that he pulled off against Baltimore's John Shelby with the bases loaded in the Series last year when he was a Phillie. This time Matthews' glove got above the fence but was a foot shy of the ball.

In baseball, it's truly surprising how much perspective can change in just one postseason game.

Just hours ago, the Cubs were thinking ahead to the Detroit Tigers and a replay of the 1945 World Series.

By this time Saturday night, if the Cubs aren't careful, they could be thinking about a replay of another season against another team: 1969 and the New York Mets.

If that's the case, then an entire city might contemplate committing Harry Caray.