By Tim Gutowski Published Jun 25, 2002 at 5:06 AM

Fifteen seasons ago, the Brewers were streaking more than an inebriated college pledge at a frat party.

Most Brewer fans remember the record-setting 13-game win streak to open the year, including Rob Deer's game-tying homer on Easter Sunday in Game 12 (and Dale Sveum's subsequent game-winner) and Juan Nieves' no-hitter against Baltimore in Game 9.

But it wasn't until midseason (the first game after the All-Star break, in fact) that Paul Molitor began the longest hit streak in the big leagues over the last 24 years.

Molitor waves to the County Stadium crowd in 1999 upon having his jersey retiredFlorida leadoff man Luis Castillo challenged Molly's 39-game streak last week, but he was finally held hitless Saturday night against Detroit after 35 games. Like Molitor before him, Castillo's streak died as his team pulled out a last at-bat victory while he stood in the on-deck circle.

For Molitor, it was lonely Brewer Rick Manning who stole his final chance to reach 40 consecutive games in the bottom of the 10th inning at County Stadium. But Molitor's 39-game streak still ranks as the seventh longest in MLB history. Legends Joe DiMaggio (56), Pete Rose (44), George Sisler (42) and Ty Cobb (40) share this elevated streak terrain with "the Ignitor."

Since '87, very few people have even threatened Molitor's number, much less DiMaggio's. Vladimir Guerrero (31), Nomar Garciaparra (30) and now Castillo have approached the 40-mark in recent years. But judging by the media attention a relatively anonymous player like Castillo was already generating by reaching the low 30s, it's highly doubtful anyone will ever come close to touching Joe D's mark.

In fact, it could well be years before even Molitor's total is bested.

As Molitor told last week, leadoff hitters like himself have the best chance of going on an extended streak.

"I think a leadoff man who can bunt and hit (has the best chance at reaching 56) because they are going to get the most at-bats, he said. "They are probably consistently getting five at bats a day, a little more margin for error, and they have the repertoire of being able to use their speed."

That was certainly the case with Molitor. The leadoff man was not only a career .306 hitter, he also stole 45 bases in 1987 and was one of the best baserunners of his era.

But even a great leadoff man will have to deal with an over-saturated media's glare, not to mention better and more specialized relief pitching than the Yankee Clipper ever faced. {INSERT_RELATED}

For Molitor, the streak started on July 16, 1987 against California. Molly doubled in the second off Kirk McCaskill and eventually came around to score. From there, he was off.

In Game 28 against Baltimore, Molitor went hitless into the ninth inning before homering at old Memorial Stadium off Tom Niedenfuer to extend the streak in a 5-4 loss. Returning home from an eight-game trip with the streak at 35 the next week, Molitor got a standing ovation in his fist at bat and then doubled to lead off the fourth to reach 36.

He led off Game 37 with a single in a two-hit night, and earned a single in his third try in Game 38.

And, of course, after every game, closer Dan Plesac would greet Molly afterwards with a handshake and the good-luck credo, "The beat goes on."

It took him until the sixth inning against Cleveland in Game 39 before Molitor punched a single to right against reliever Don Gordon.

I still remember Bob Uecker's call. "A swing and a ... BASE HIT TO RIGHT! Thirty-nine straight for Molitor!" Uecker then let County Stadium's surging cheers tell the story. "They are standing and applauding Paul Molitor," he piped in after a long pause.

The Brewers won that game 10-9; Juan Nieves picked up his 11th win, and Dale Sveum hit his 19th homer while driving in five.

The streak ended one short of the magical two-score mark the next night. In the bottom of the 10th of a 0-0 game with Cleveland, the maligned Manning, who arrived in a trade for local fave Gorman Thomas in 1983 and never hit above .254 with the Crew, pinch hit for second baseman Juan Castillo, ironically enough. Manning singled in pinch-runner Mike Felder from second with the winning run; there was just one out at the time. Molitor was the first person to run out and shake Manning's hand.

It was August 26, and with the win the Brewers improved to 68-58, 7 1/2 games back of Detroit. They finished 91-71, seven games out. Since then, they've only topped that mark once: 92-70 in 1992.

All in all, it was an amazing month and a half. Molitor collected 68 hits in 164 at bats, a mark of .415. He scored 42 runs in the 39 games, and the Brewers went 24-15 during the streak. Of the 39, Molitor had 10 two-hit games, eight three-hit games and one four-hit game for a total of 19 multi-hit outings.

He finished the year with a league-high 114 runs (in 118 games) and batted .353, with an OBP of .438. He also led the league in doubles (41).

Castillo appeared to be in a haze when his streak ended Saturday as his teammates celebrated their four-run, game-winning rally.

Perhaps he was contemplating how far he had come in the last month; either that or how far he still had left to travel to reach baseball immortality -- 21 games. And he was still four shy of the best streak this city has ever seen.

Sports shots columnist Tim Gutowski was born in a hospital in West Allis and his sporting heart never really left. He grew up in a tiny town 30 miles west of the city named Genesee and was in attendance at County Stadium the day the Brewers clinched the 1981 second-half AL East crown. I bet you can't say that.

Though Tim moved away from Wisconsin (to Iowa and eventually the suburbs of Chicago) as a 10-year-old, he eventually found his way back to Milwaukee. He remembers fondly the pre-Web days of listenting to static-filled Brewers games on AM 620 and crying after repeated Bears' victories over the Packers.