MILWAUKEE, AUG. 23 -- Paul Molitor has been at it for five weeks, in the afternoon and in the evening, with the stands empty or full. Today, he continued his struggle with history by getting another hit off the American League's best pitching staff.
He extended his hitting streak to 38 consecutive games this afternoon with a fifth-inning single in his third at-bat in front of another loud and celebratory home crowd. And the Brewers beat the Kansas City Royals, 10-5.
"It's a lot better feeling today than last night," he said in reference to the Brewers' 8-7 loss Saturday to Kansas City.
He got the hit against left-hander Charlie Leibrandt, who led the American League in ERA (2.77) before today and was the hottest pitcher (4-1, 2.13 ERA in his last six starts) on a club that leads the league in ERA (3.84).
Molitor led off the fifth with the score tied at 4. He lined Leibrandt's first pitch, an inside slider, to left. Left fielder Lonnie Smith could only smother the ball after it bounced in front of him.
The crowd of 33,887 arose, and, as has become customary, Molitor tipped his cap slightly in acknowledgment.
It was the seventh time he had extended the streak in his third at-bat; he has hit nine times in the first at-bat, 13 times in the second, six times in the fourth and three times in his fifth at-bat.
He had been 0-2 in this game before the hit. "Today, the first two at-bats, I was very relaxed," he said. "That third at-bat I had an opportunity to lead off. I was concerned not only with getting a hit but trying to get on base."
Leibrandt had jammed him with a fastball in the first that broke his bat. In the third, Leibrandt came inside with a slider to get him out.
"He started me off with a slider inside," Molitor said. "I was expecting something inside since that's how he got me out the first two times. I was a little bit quicker that time and I was able to slap it in left field."
For the day, he was one for four with a walk and a run as the Brewers won for the second time in the three-game series.
He fell behind in the count, 0-1, in his first at-bat when he bunted at the ball and missed. Then he lifted a fly to center that Willie Wilson caught easily.
Molitor came up with two out and none on in the third, and hit a high pop to short left. Shortstop Russ Jones went out but gave way to Smith.
Bill Schroeder and Greg Brock each drove in three runs to lead the Brewers.
Milwaukee took the lead for good in the sixth inning. With two out and the score 5-5, Schroeder, who had four hits, singled and stole second. He advanced on Ernest Riles' single and scored on a wild pitch by reliever Bob Stoddard (1-2). Riles moved to second on the play and scored on Juan Castillo's single to make it 7-5.
Jay Aldrich (3-1) pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings for the victory.
Molitor's streak is fifth best on the modern major league hit streak list. (Tommy Holmes of the Boston Braves hit in 37 straight in 1945). But he said once the streak reaches a certain level, the distinction between 38 games in a row and 37 or 36 begins to blur.
"It just really isn't that much difference," he said. "When you talk about competing with the record, it's not that significant."
Nonetheless, it is the longest streak in the majors since Pete Rose's 44 games in 1978. And it's the longest in the American League since Joe DiMaggio's hot summer of 1941.
When asked about Rose's comments Saturday that Molitor had to relax and take one game at a time, Molitor laughed.
"Pete didn't call the reporters over and say 'Hey, I have something to say about Paul Molitor's streak,' " he said. "But to have Pete even be notified, I guess that feels good."
Molitor's assault on DiMaggio's 56-game hit streak will continue Tuesday evening against Cleveland's Ken Schrom. With a hit, he will move within one of Ty Cobb's streak of 1911.
In four games last week against the Indians, Molitor went 10 for 20, including two hits Thursday off Schrom.
The Brewers' schedule over the next 19 games is: six home games against Cleveland and Minnesota, a six-game road trip in Kansas City and Minnesota and seven more at home against Toronto and Detroit.
He's hitting .419 (67-160) in the streak, with 17 doubles, three triples, seven homers and 33 RBI.
Not only does he have the streak, he's tied for fifth in the American League in steals (29) and tied for third in doubles (31) -- all while hitting .371.
And if he stays healthy, in the leadoff spot he should get enough plate apperances to qualify for the batting title. Right now, he's nine points ahead of Boston's Wade Boggs (.362).
Now comes a rare day off for the Brewers (their second since the all-star break), and Molitor said while it will be good to get away from the ballpark, the streak will still be on his mind.
"I don't think you can totally forget about it," he said. "You'll see the newspaper and have family members come up to you and congratulate you."