He had waited almost 19 years for this moment. In the back of his mind, it had always been one of the goals in his life and now Tom Seaver was one out away. One more out and he would have 300 victories in the major leagues.
All afternoon, Seaver had been fighting his emotions. He would say later he was so emotional he couldn't even feel the baseball coming off his hand most of the day. Now, he stood on the Yankee Stadium mound, believing that he was having trouble keeping his feet on the ground.
"I felt like I was levitating out there," he said moments after he had become the 17th major league pitcher to win 300 games with a 4-1 victory over the New York Yankees. "I was so nervous today I felt like I was pitching my first major league game all over again. I had a headache, my stomach hurt, it was awful."
Harold Baines had just made a circus catch on Willie Randolph's line drive toward the right field wall and Seaver's Chicago White Sox needed just one out. Third base umpire Terry Cooney walked past Seaver and said softly, "Congratulations, Tom, you deserve this."
Seaver was touched, but pragmatic. "Don't congratulate me until I get one more out," he said.
In the dugout, all the White Sox were on the top step. "It was so intense it was like a World Series," said second baseman Bryan Little. "I could hardly breathe."
Next to the dugout, Seaver's wife Nancy, his two daughters and his 74-year-old father Charlie leaned over the railing. They were almost alone among the 54,032 in the old stadium in that they were sitting. Most were on their feet, yelling for Seaver.
The batter was Mike Pagliarulo. Dan Pasqua was on first base. Seaver, who already had thrown 141 pitches, threw four straight balls for his first walk of the game. Catcher Carlton Fisk walked to the mound to, as Seaver put it, "give me a kick in the butt."
Fisk told Seaver he was pushing the ball and said simply, "You've waited a long time for this."
Seaver nodded and stared in at Don Baylor, pinch-hitting for Bobby Meacham. He was the potential tying run. One inning earlier, in the same situation, Seaver had struck Dave Winfield out on a 3-2 changeup that was low and away.
On another day, in another situation, Seaver might have come out. He is 40, can't throw as hard or as long as he used to and the White Sox have a lot of confidence in Bob James coming out of the bullpen. But Seaver wasn't coming out today.
The day started with ceremonies honoring former Yankee Phil Rizzuto, whose uniform No. 10 was retired before the game.
It was 6:11 p.m. when Seaver went into his compact motion one more time, rocked and threw pitch No. 146, a fast ball in on Baylor's hands. Bailing out, Baylor swung under the ball and sent it very high toward left fielder Reid Nichols.
"When he hit it, I thought it was an out," Seaver said. "After 19 years, you sort of know the arch of a home run. After all, I've given up enough of them that I should know what it looks like."
As the ball floated toward Nichols, Seaver stood just off the mound, watching, waiting. Nichols cradled the ball in his glove and Seaver leaned forward, hands on his knees for a moment and felt himself almost carried away with joy.
"It's been an awfully long time since I've been that happy after a ball game," he said. "This is truly a day I'll always remember."
So will his teammates. They pounded Seaver, shook him and hugged him. As Seaver walked toward the dugout, he saw his family. When he hugged his wife and saw she was crying, he felt a surge of tears himself.
"I think seeing those tears coming out of her eyes may have been the best moment for me," he said later, his voice choking at the memory. "I'm glad all my family was here to see it. This is a terrific feeling."
Actually, a Terrific feeling, as in Tom Terrific, the nickname hung on Seaver when he first arrived here as a New York Met in 1967. It was on April 19 of that year, on a cold, blustery afternoon with 5,379 at Shea Stadium, that Seaver got his first victory, 6-1, over the Chicago Cubs.
In the days since, Seaver had won three Cy Young Awards, pitched the once-pitiful Mets to two pennants and a World Series title, pitched a no-hitter, struck out nearly 3,500 batters and assured himself of a spot in the Hall of Fame. He had talked about 300 as something he wanted but kept insisting it wasn't all that important.
Today, he found out it was a lie. Nervous? "Almost sick," he said.
But, as he has been so many times in the past, Seaver was equal to the moment. He trailed briefly when the Yankees got a run in the third and might have been frustrated by his teammates' horrendous base running that stopped several early rallies.
"We did run into some out early," Seaver said. "But I felt like if I could just keep it close that eventually we were going to score some runs."
He was right. In the sixth, the White Sox scored four runs. Greg Walker walked and was forced by Fisk, who barely beat the relay, a crucial play as it turned out. Oscar Gamble singled and Yankees Manager Billy Martin replaced starter Joe Cowley with Brian Fisher.
It was a mistake. Tim Hulett doubled in a run, Ozzie Guillen singled another home and, after Rudy Law walked, Little singled in two more.
Now, it was up to Seaver. He breezed through the sixth and seventh and took a three-hitter into the eighth. But in the eighth, Meacham led off with a single. Seaver struck out Rickey Henderson (zero for four) looking and got Griffey to ground out but gave up a rocket-shot single to Mattingly. Two out, two on and up came Winfield, whose 16th homer Friday tied a game with two out in the ninth.
He worked to 3-2. Fisk signaled for another fast ball. Seaver shook him off. He wanted to throw the changeup. He did. It floated away from Winfield's lunging bat. Strike three.
Exultant and exhausted, Seaver said to 9-year-old daughter Anne, "Three more outs to go, Annie."
"Good, Daddy," she answered. "Then can we go swimming?"
But first, there was the ninth. After Pasqua's leadoff single, Seaver retired Ron Hassey for his 3,499th career strikeout, got Randolph on Baines' fine catch and finally reached The Moment.
"But you can't really think about moments then," he said. "You still have work to do."
"I seriously doubt if there's ever been a pitcher in baseball who's worked harder or prepared himself better to pitch than Tom," Fisk said. "He just goes out there all the time and competes."
Seaver has always approached baseball analytically and he talked this evening about staying ready and going after No. 301 on Friday. But as he blinked the champagne out of his eyes, Seaver was clearly ecstatic. "You know," he said, holding up a glass to toast his teammates, "we ought to do this more often than once every 19 years."