MILWAUKEE, AUG. 27 -- An hour before game time this afternoon, as the Milwaukee Brewers were finishing batting practice, Cleveland rookie John Farrell approached Paul Molitor and extended a hand.

"Congratulations, Paul," Farrell told him.

The two men shook hands, and Farrell asked Molitor to autograph a baseball, which Molitor did, writing, "To John, Wishing you a great career. My best always. Paul Molitor."

Of all the weird exchanges that took place here this week, this surely was one of the weirdest. A night earlier, Farrell, making only his second major league start, held Molitor hitless in four at-bats to end Molitor's 39-game hitting streak -- the fifth-longest this century and the seventh-longest ever.

After Molitor arrived at County Stadium today to get on with the rest of his career, Farrell's request was one of several. He also found a locker filled with mail, telegrams and telphone messages from around the country.

He received a congratulatory handshake from Cleveland Indians Manager Doc Edwards, who whispered, "I appreciate the class way you've handled this. You've done a good thing for baseball."

He also autographed baseballs for several other Indians, did another round of interviews and played a Day-After game, going two for four as the Brewers beat the Indians, 4-3, this afternoon.

"I'm not sure the importance of the streak has set in to the degree that it eventually will," he said. "Talking to my teammates about going six weeks without {a hitless game} . . . I think that as time goes by I'll appreciate it more and more."

He wore a day's growth of beard and looked tired after not getting to sleep "until about 3 o'clock. I was really emotionally drained, although I feel good today."

But he accepted the continued demands with patience and grace, admitting that, although the attention might not end for a while, neither will his feelings.

"I know something like this is going to linger," he said. "Some of the things that happened are going to be hard to forget. But right now, I just want to get back up on my horse and help the team these last six weeks."

His streak ended in the oddest circumstances possible Wednesday night. Held hitless in his first four at-bats by Farrell, he was on deck in the 10th inning when pinch hitter Rick Manning singled home Mike Felder for a 1-0 victory.

A crowd of 11,246, made smaller by day-long rains, booed as Felder scored, but Molitor shook Felder's hand, then sprinted toward first base to congratulate Manning.

He joked that he'd waved for Felder to go back to third base, "but he completely ignored me." Later, in a more serious moment, he admitted that Felder had to score.

"You're talking the integrity of baseball," he said. "Really, there wasn't much choice there."

However, he was honest enough to admit that a tiny part of him wanted to root against Manning.

"It's human nature in a lot of ways," he said. "You could tell that by the reaction of the crowd. It just seemed that the streak was more important at that point.

"But it's impossible not to pull for a teammate. I just can't be disappointed when the guy in front of me gets a game-winning hit."

The moments after that were a blur, although the overriding feeling, he said, "was that reality had set in. It was over. I went to congratulate Archie {Manning's nickname}, and I was surprised how the congratulations went from him to me in about four or five seconds. I'd thought that might happen when we were in the clubhouse.

"Tony Muser {third base coach} was the first there to give me a nice warm hug around the neck."

Manning took the booing good-naturedly, saying, "I had a good night, too. Well, a couple of snipers did take shots at me on the way home. Luckily, the bullets ricocheted off my van."

He said he'd asked the clubhouse attendant "to go start my car for me the rest of the year in case anyone plans to try any funny business."

Molitor hit .415 during the streak, raising his batting average from .323 to .370. In the 39 games, he was so efficient that he had a hit in his first or second trip 22 times and went to his last at-bat only three times.

He'd been going for his 40th consecutive game, which would have tied him for the sixth-longest streak of all-time, that one by Ty Cobb in 1911.

"Really, it's mind-boggling to be named in company like that," he said. "It's an honor, and something I'll always treasure."

As Farrell and Milwaukee's Teddy Higuera matched shutouts through nine innings Wednesday, four hitters had streaks end. Molitor's was the longest, but teammates Ernest Riles and Robin Yount had 11-game streaks stopped, and Cleveland's Brett Butler had a 19-game streak broken.

Asked how many times he'd replayed his four at-bats against Farrell, Molitor said, "It seemed like one of those games where he had just a good enough fastball to get by. I have a couple approaches to hitting and, when a guy has a good fastball, that's what I guard against. It just seemed that when I was looking inside he was throwing one away. I just never caught up as far as knowing what to expect."

He said the at-bat that kept running through his mind was in the sixth when he grounded out to shortstop.

"He gave me a pitch to hit," Molitor said, "and even got it up in the strike zone. I tried to pull off it a little and didn't get it. That happens many at-bats during the season, but because of the circumstances I remember it. Maybe I was a little overanxious. But for the most part I didn't feel nervous. I stayed relaxed because, as long as the streak went, I knew it was going to end sometime."

His next accomplishment could be the American League batting championship, which would amount to something of a miracle for a player who missed 44 games because of elbow and hamstring injuries in the first half of the season.

He is hitting .367, two points higher than the average Boston's Wade Boggs took into tonight'game.

His problem is that he's 125 plate appearances short of the 502 required to qualify for the championship.

That means he must average 3.6 plate appearances per game in the Brewers' last 36 games, a reachable goal if he doesn't get hurt again.

"I'm not really a goal-setter for that kind of thing," he said. "For one thing, injuries can knock you down in a hurry in this game. But if we're nearing the end of the season and I'm competing with Wade, that would be something to focus on."

He'll make $1.12 million this year and is eligible for free agency this winter, but said, "I'm not sure that means anything anymore. I think there's a very high percentage I'll be back. They've expressed a desire to have me back, and that's really all I wanted to hear." Game-by-Game Statistics, Page C8