Baseball's incomparable Pete Rose tied Ty Cobb's record of 4,191 career hits, getting two singles today against the Chicago Cubs that brought Wrigley Field fans -- and the nation -- to their feet in admiration.
The barrel-chested, 44-year-old Rose's single-minded devotion to and joy at playing the national pastime has beguiled America since he first began playing major league baseball for the Cincinnati Reds in 1963.
Each time he appeared before the crowd of 28,269 in this venerable ballpark on Chicago's North Side, the crowd leaped to its feet, shouting: "Pete! Pete!"
Rose, who entered the game needing two base hits to match Cobb's 57-year-old record, responded with two hits in his first three times up. He had two chances to break the record, but grounded out in the seventh inning and, after a 2-hour 3-minute rain delay, struck out in the ninth with the score 5-5.
Because there are no lights at Wrigley Field, darkness ended the game after nine innings. Umpires at first said it was a suspended game, but the National League later announced that the game officially ended in a tie. All the statistics today count, and an extra game would be played between the Reds and Cubs after the regularly scheduled season, if essential to the NL West pennant race.
Rose, who also is the manager of the Reds, was not supposed to play today because the Cubs were planning to start a left-handed pitcher -- Steve Trout. Rose, who is a switch-hitter, rarely plays nowadays against left-handed pitchers, preferring to bat left-handed against right-handed pitchers.
But Trout was injured Saturday in a bicycle accident and Reggie Patterson, a class AAA right-hander until last week, was given the start.
So Rose, whose team will return to Cincinnati Monday night to open an eight-game home stand, put himself in the lineup despite the fact "the Chase" will assure huge crowds at Riverfront Stadium.
"I was a little confused," he admitted about putting himself in the lineup today, adding he did not want to disappoint his boss (Reds owner Marge Schott), his family and fans in Cincinnati.
"I had 30,000 people yelling here and one lady (Schott) in Cincinnati who, everytime I get a hit, kicks her dog."
"Pete should not have started in Chicago," Schott said. "No one would have complained."
Rose said outfielder Dave Parker of the Reds jokingly advised him not to play, but Rose said he was determined that "my philosophy on the game remain consistent." Which is to say, when the situation is right, he would play, regardless of where he stood in relation to the record.
Monday night, the Reds will play the San Diego Padres, who plan to start left-hander Dave Dravecky. Rose is not supposed to try for 4,192 Monday, but, after today, who knows what he will do?
In the first inning today, he came to the plate batting No. 2. The crowd roared, and Rose, who later said the fans here helped pump up his emotions, hit Patterson's first pitch to left for a clean single.
The ballpark was swept with cries of exaltation and an excited air built in anticipation of his next at bat.
In the third inning he drove in a run on a ground out to second.
In the fifth, he came to bat with one out and no one on. As the crowd roared his name over and over and over, he saw the count go to 0-2. Patterson then bounced two pitches in front of the plate, and threw ball three outside. Rose hit the next pitch cleanly into right-center field for 4,191 and the cheers echoed through Wrigley Field.
"Tying the record is the biggest individual achievement that could happen to anyone," he said afterward.
"I was going to go over and shake his hand," Patterson said. "But I stopped. I don't know why." Patterson was 8-10 with a 4.77 ERA with the Cubs' Iowa farm club until last Tuesday. "He's the greatest ball player that ever played the game," he said. "It was a history-making event."
Patterson said both hits came off screwballs.
Standing quietly at first base, Rose bowed his head momentarily, then doffed his hard, red, plastic batting helmet in a modest, gentlemanly, happy salute. The ecstatic crowd responded with a standing ovation that lasted three minutes and finally ended when the dark-uniformed umpires began stirring at the delay.
It was a remarkable moment in Rose's career, which spans three decades and has come to symbolize for millions in this country an indomitable spirit of tough-minded, aggressive competition.
Long a baseball superstar, he in recent months has become a national symbol as he closed in on Cobb, who retired from baseball in 1928 after making more base hits than any other man to play the game.
With two hits under his belt, the way now was open for Rose to surpass Cobb.
But it was not to be. Rose came to bat in the seventh against veteran Lary Sorensen and grounded out to short. "I'm glad he didn't get it off me," Sorensen said. In the eighth inning, as if some mischievous gods were displeased that Cobb's record had been tied, the skies darkened on a sultry afternoon and lightning and thunder rolled toward the field. Rain began just after 3 p.m. When play resumed about 5:30, the approximately 10,000 fans who had sat it out were in for another treat.
As gloom gathered in major league baseball's only park that has no lights, Rose came to bat in the ninth inning. No one was out and runners were at first and second base. The crowd was on its feet from the moment Rose walked from the on-deck circle to the batter's box. The count went to two balls, two strikes and the crowd was screaming, "Let's go, Pete! Let's go, Pete!" even as their favorite relief pitcher, Lee Smith, labored to strike him out. Though a hit likely would cost the Cubs the game, Cobb's record would fall.
But with a lusty swing from his crouched-over position, Rose struck out.
"I wish I could have gotten one more hit today," he said. "That would have won the game for us.
"A lot was going through my mind," he said of his final two times at bat. He added that the tension had been building from the beginning of the game.
The Cubs batted in the bottom of the ninth, and with darkness engulfing the stadium, the umpires halted play.
But the record is official, a moment of supreme triumph for Pete Rose, the Cincinnati Red who today equaled a legend.