The sign above Kurt Bevacqua's locker in the San Diego Padres locker room says, "If I hang around here another 20 years, maybe I'll get my act together."

It took Bevacqua only one night.

The goat of Game 1 of the World Series was the hero of Game 2.

Tuesday he stumbled. Went weak-legged between second and third trying to stretch a double. "I see your base running coach is here tonight," Graig Nettles said to Bevacqua before this game. "Gerald Ford."

This night Dirty Bevacqua soared. Absolution before 75 million viewers.

The vet's three-run homer in the fifth inning off Detroit's Dan Petry gave the Padres a soul-stirring 5-3 come-from-behind victory that evened this classic at one game apiece. The teams now move to Detroit for games Friday night and Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

In all, Bevacqua had three hits, scored another run and sent two Tigers pitchers to the showers. "My career's had a lot of valleys," he said. "This was the top."

Asked if he knew as soon as he hit the ball that it would be a home run, he said: "I only hit one home run this season, so how the hell was I gonna tell if it was going out . . . (but) I knew I wasn't going to get thrown out at third on that ball."

The Tigers will have to do some serious soul searching after this loss.

The Padres' first four pitches of this game produced three line drive hits and a stolen base. The Tigers had all three of their runs before they made the second out of the game.

San Diego's starter, Ed Whitson, got only two outs. If ever a game looked like a slaughter, this was it.

However, the Padres' amazing long relievers, as superb in this postseason as the team's starters have been awful, shut out the Tigers for 8 1/3 innings.

Marvelous Andy Hawkins, unscored upon in 11 2/3 postseason innings, got the victory with 5 1/3 innings of one-hit work. "I have a new delivery," said the Waco, Tex., right-hander. "Now I can throw strikes." Yes, that does help.

Craig Lefferts, who won the last two games of the NL championship series, got the three-inning save with five strikeouts.

Seldom, if ever, has a team tried to win a title with starting pitching as abysmal as the Padres' has been: a 7.33 postseason ERA. But then, no team has ever matched the Padres' recent relief-pitching binge.

San Diego's bullpen is unscored on in its last 21 innings, allowing six hits. The trio of Hawkins, Lefferts and Dave Dravecky has worked 28 innings in October, allowing no runs and eight hits.

In this gang, Goose Gossage is the weak link. He's the only reliever who has allowed a run in the Padres' last 32 innings.

"This game was won by Hawkins and Lefferts," said the Tigers' manager, Sparky Anderson, who will have to explain a great many times why he left Petry, who'd been in four huge jams, in the game to face Bevacqua. "They shut us down completely."

Only one moment from this night will live long. But it will last for decades in the baseball mind.

What Reggie Jackson did for the superstar in the '77 Series with his three-homer game, Bevacqua, with his .200 batting average, did for Everyman.

For 18 years in baseball, Bevacqua has had to learn how to swallow.

Swallow trades and releases and trips back to the minors. Swallow 17 changes of address in 13 cities. Swallow seasons when he bats fewer than 100 times and knows every trip could be the last of a barely visible career.

This summer was the worst. He batted only 80 times and was separated from his wife. One night he drank too much and got arrested for trying to break into his own house. He spent the night in custody.

Finally, on Tuesday, baseball made him swallow the big one. Wait 18 years and be the goat. "I had a lot of second-guessers today," Bevacqua said to the press tonight, knowing that his feet had only tried, and failed, to do what Coach Ozzie Virgil told him. So tonight Bevacqua spit it all back. No more swallowing.

As he stepped to the plate in the fifth, he kept tugging at his uniform sleeve. "It was a message to my wife. 'This time up is for you,' " said Bevacqua, who has reconciled with his wife.

Petry, who'd already had 10 base runners prancing around him this night, threw an 0-1 slider that Bevacqua hit over the left field fence with plenty to spare. As the ball disappeared, he spun 360 degrees in the air and almost missed first base. As he rounded third, he blew a two-handed kiss to the crowd.

To his wife?

"Naw," he said. "The girl next to her. Oh, jeez, no, no, I've had enough trouble this summer. It was definitely to my wife."

Until this sweet southern California evening, his symbolic moment came the day that he won a bet for charity from teammate Terry Kennedy by catching five straight baseballs dropped from the top of the 390-foot Imperial Bank Building here.

After snagging the fifth ball traveling nearly 120 mph, Bevacqua walkie-talkied up to Kennedy at the top and said, "Another $1,000 says I can catch one behind my back."

"It ticked off the end of my first baseman's glove," he said.

Normally, he specializes in hustle (hence the nickname Mr. Dirty) and near-misses (hence the .234 career average). But not this time.

Everything up until his homer was simply perfect stage setting.

The Tigers started with singles by Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell and Kirk Gibson, who drove in the first run. After Lance Parrish's sacrifice fly to left (on a foul ball) and an RBI single by Darrell Evans, this looked like Drubbing City.

The Padres retaliated in the first with Alan Wiggins' bunt hit, Tony Gwynn's walk, Steve Garvey's sacrifice bunt (trying for a hit) and Nettles' sacrifice fly. In the fourth, Bevacqua gave an omen when he opened the inning with a single, went to third on one of Garry Templeton's three hits and scored on Bobby Brown's weak grounder.

"At least, on Tempy's hit, I showed everybody I wasn't scared (going first to third); I didn't stop at second," said Bevacqua, who barreled into the bag headfirst.

Petry kept getting into hotter and hotter water, but Anderson, normally called Captain Hook for his quick waves to the bullpen, seemed frozen at the switch. Baseball's rule of thumb is that a pitcher is allowed to work out of two major jams (i.e., more than one runner on base) himself, but the manager usually goes and gets him the third time. The fourth time, always.

In the fifth, Nettles walked with one out and Kennedy hit a one-hot smash right at second baseman Whitaker. That's when the Padres got their one big break.

"This infield is the worst I've ever seen," said Anderson. "It's hard as concrete."

Kennedy's ball, just like a Padres smash in Game 5 of the playoffs that ate up Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg, took a high, vicious hop that hit Whitaker on the sternum and bounced away for a scratch hit.

"Big break," muttered Anderson.

Big break for Bevacqua. Like many managers, Anderson hates to relieve a pitcher who's in trouble because of bad luck.

So he left Petry in.

To Bevacqua's eternal gratitude.

If the Padres have a hidden hero, it's Manager Dick Williams, who turned to an old managing ploy -- one that, for instance, Earl Weaver believed in absolutely: "Always use yesterday's goat today."

Pride is the mainspring of most pro athletes and injured pride is athletic nitroglycerin. For this game, Williams moved Bevacqua up from No. 9 to No. 6 in the lineup. "I wanted to get him a little action," Williams said.

Bevacqua didn't know of his new spot in the order until just before the game because he arrived at the park late. "My limo driver left me behind," said Bevacqua, who thinks he may play in the World Series only once, so why not do it in style?

"That's how much respect I have. We'll see if he leaves me tomorrow."