Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

The Boston Red Sox began last night's game with Rick Burleson singling, Fred Lynn doubling off the right field wall and Jim Rice blasting a three-run homer over the fence in left.

Three batters, a dozen pitches from Baltimore's Scott McGregor and a 3-0 Boston lead. Chalk up another for the Bosox menace, right?

Dead wrong.

After Rice's homer, McGregor retired the next 23 men in a row as the O's lallied to win 5-3, beating Sox ace Dennis Eckersley.

If a Frank Duffy liner had been two inches lower in the seventh, McGregor would have retired a perfect 27 in a row to end the game.

As it was, Boston summoned two singles with two out in the ninth, a last-gasp rally that brought slugger Dwight Evans to the plate and Don Stanhouse rushing in from the Oriole bullpen.

Stanhouse never threw a pitch. After glancing back to second as a decoy. Stanhouse whirled toward first and picked off the smartest of the Red Sox, Cariton Fisk, to end this most confidence-shattering sort of game.

"Once you start sliding," said a dejected Fisk, "you can go from bad to worse. We liave to prevent that . . . We gotta be sick of ourselves right now."

The Red Sox, losers of four out of five with their lead over New York down to five games, appear to be out on their feet, from injuries and fatigue, trying to clear their brains before a kayo punch comes.

This was the game Rex Sox lovers assumed - desperately assumed - their Carmine Hose would win. Eckersley, now 16-6, is their big stick. Today the matchup is Baltimore's Jim Palmer against one Bobby Sprowl, who is making his major league debut.

The Sox face seven meetings with New York and four more with Baltimore in the next two weeks.That ordeal blends into an 11-game road trip.

"We looked at our schedule at the beginning of the year and knew there would be two rough stages," Fisk said. "This was the second one."

The Sox could hardly be more ill-prepared for their test of gumption. Second baseman Jerry Remy is out with a broken bone in his wrist. Evans has hurried back after a severe beaning that knocked him unconscious last week.

"I'm dizzy all the time," Evan said last night. "I feel like I just got off the Tea Cup ride at Disney World."

Evans made two errors last night that set up two runs. No one could remember if the AL's best right fielder had ever made two errors in one night - one of them a botch of a short fly with a man on third.

Butch Hobson has so many injuries (two knees and floating bone chips in his elbow) that he has not homered in 10 weeks. Captain Carl Yastrzemski wears a brace on his wrist and hand. Yaz continues to hit (.291), but without power - only one homer in six weeks.

The Red Sox hospital Fist - appears to be endless - Fisk, playing with a broken rib; Bill Campbell, virtually useless for the rest of the season (elbow and shoulder).

The result shows in a batting order that, except for Rice, is no longer terrifying. The entire infield, with Duffy replacing Remy, is hitting less than 250.

Last night McGregor made the simple adjustment of junking his fast ball in favor of a sinker and good control. "A great guts performance," Mark Belanger said.

But it was one that no pitcher, certainly not McGregor (13-12), throwing change ups off change ups, could have managed against a healthy Red Sox nine.

The O's comeback was relentless. Larry Harlow hit Eckersley's first pitch over the right field fence.

Pat Kelly blasted Eckerley's third pitch 20 feet over the right field foul pole - foul by inches - but an Eddie Murray double and Evans' error cut Eckersley's lead to 3-2 before the first inning's end.

In the sixth a Ken Singleton single, a Murray excuse-me check swing line single and a Lee May double to the left field corner and Boston in the hole for good, 4-3.

Eckersley remembered Harlow's first-pitch unsult. When Harlow was thrown out at the plate in the seventh, he smashed into Carlton Fisk at the plate. "Just standard," Fisk said.

Eckerslay, standing six feet away, thought differently. He gave Harlow the sort of two-forearm shiver used by linebackers to greet tight ends in the NFL Harlow went down on his duff and both benches cleared.

No one was hurt except Eckersley, who got smacked on the crazy bone and left the game. No matter. His manager would have hooked him or the umpire ejected him if he had considered returning.

"It was a very weak move on my part," Eckersley said. "If it takes an apology. I'd make it."

However, Eckersley's weak moves were not the ones that disturbed the Sox last night. Their best swings of the night came in the first secondsof the home plate brouhaha.

Those 26 of 27 men who went down meekly against McGregor, and Fisk's final fast-asleep pickoff, were the images that will remain with a team, that is battling not only the opposition and schedule but tiself as well to protest its substantial but inexorably dwindling lead.