Pete Rose was asked tonight if the attendance clause in his contract has begun to pay off. "Yeah, I think so," he said. "And it's really going to kick in tomorrow night."

This evening, 51,045 people, almost all of them seemingly with flashbulb cameras that made Riverfront Stadium look like a lightning-bug convention, came to see Rose get career hit No. 4,192.

Instead, they saw him hit three weak pop flies to the left side and, finally, a hot line drive up the gap in left center in the eighth with the tying run on second base. However, Carmelo Martinez caught the ball in overdrive cruise.

"I hate to disappoint you people," said Rose to hundreds of reporters after going hitless in those four trips in a 3-2 loss to San Diego. "I hate to disappoint the fans. And I hate to lose a game. Other than that," he deadpanned, "I couldn't care less."

He blamed himself for impatience in his first three at bats against winner LaMarr Hoyt (14-8), who consistently jammed him up and in, producing a pop to short, a fly to left and another pop to short. "I may have been overanxious. Not nervous. Hell, I've made more outs than anybody (in history). I'm not nervous . . . But I should have taken a walk the first time up (on a 3-1 pitch) . . .

"Since I came back to Cincinnati," he said, with a typically exotic statistic, "that's only the 12th time in 117 games that I've been kept off base."

Rose was triple-miffed over being kept off base, because "Dave Parker got two hits behind me and Buddy Bell hit a (two-run fourth-inning) homer." Also, Ron Robinson, after giving up two first-inning runs, shut down the Padres until the seventh.

Then, Tim Flannery singled, pinch hitter Al Bumbry walked and Rose decided to let Robinson face switch hitter Garry Templeton, rather than call for left-hander John Franco. Templeton grounded a game-winning single up the middle -- one of his four hits.

Rose's eigth-inning liner off Lance McCullers was the closest the Reds came to tying. Thousands of fans in right field thought the ball, which Martinez ended up catching easily, would be a double to the wall and prematurely littered the outfield with confetti.

Rose, whose longest hitless streak this year is zero for 13, refused to think negatively: "You always look at your last at bat. If you don't, you'll think yourself into a slump. I smoked that last one. I've forgotten the first three already.

"Hey," he added, "that's all we need. Me to come to the park tommorrow, find out I'm in a slump and take myself out of the lineup.

"Did you ever see cement burn?"

Riverfront Stadium probably wouldn't be torched if Rose didn't start Wednesday against right-hander Eric Show. But then again . . .

Rose tried to joke about the crowds that his quest will draw, though it obviously hurt his pride not to get The Hit in his customary commanding style.

"Is (owner) Marge (Schott) outside conducting the ticket lines?" he asked.

Perhaps no one else in baseball but Rose could turn such an anticlimactic, disappointing night into a mild pleasure. "I'll get my half-night's sleep . . . and be back tomorrow," he said.