In one of this spring's new goofball TV fantasy shows, people are allowed to travel backward in time to a crucial and disastrous moment in their lives.

Granted a second chance, they try to do better-aided, of course, by the knowledge they gained from the first experience.

Nice premise. Dumb show, too far-fetched.

Unless, that is, you are the Baltimore Orioles. For them, the "Time Express" is about to leave the station. The Birds have been granted the rarest of opportunities-the chance to relive a horrendous episode in their past, and perhaps make restitution.

Last season, the Birds had one glorious fling at pennant contention when they won 20 of 23 games.

Just as the '78 Orioles, after an awful 0-5 start, had climbed above .600, they arrived here in Beantown for a three-game series with the red-hot Sox.

They lost all three .

Then the O's travelled to Toronto. And lost four straight-including a 24-10 debacle in which an outfielder and a catcher were called in as relief pitchers.

Finally, the Birds returned home, and lost an eighth game-this time to Boston, again.

"You wouldn't believe it could happen twice," Manager Earl Weaver said, "but here we go . . ."

The Orioles arrived here today fresh from a scalding streak of 19 wins in 22 games. Sound familiar?

After opening the year with a 3-8 nose dive, the Birds have climbed into first place at 22-11, just a half-game ahead of the Red Sox.

Now, since tonight's first game of this series was postponed by a steady rain, the Orioles face a three-game series in Fenway Park, just as they did last year.

After Fenway, where does Baltimore go? To Toronto for three games, naturally, then home to Memorial Stadium to play Boston again, of course.

"Maybe we can get it right this time," Weaver said tonight. "You can bet we're going to have a clubhouse meeting tomorrow and talk about it-before the series starts.

"There's no doubt that eight-game losing streak (last June) did more to kill our season than any one thing. When it was over, we were 121/2 games behind the Red Sox and we never got in the chase the rest of the year."

No more superstitious man exists than Weaver, who never changes his rituals while his team is hot.

Today, waiting for rain to postpone his game, he accidentally smashed his shin into his desk drawar, then cut himself shaving. As he limped out of the clubhouse, bleeding slightly from knee and cheek, Weaver grumbled, "Maybe it's just as good we didn't have to play. We might have won. I'd sure hell hate to have to do all that to myself every day."

Weaver cannot help but be a jittery about his Birds.

"Everybody has been doing absolutely everything just the way we want them to do it. And they been doing it together," Weaver said."We're winnin' so easy that the manager don't get to make no decisions and the relief pitchers don't get no saves.

"(Don) Stanhouse and me need work.

"What we've got to avoid is everybody slowing down together," he said with a raised eyebrow. "The last couple of years, we've had a habit of doing that."

Jim Palmer, so often a pessimist in Oriole affairs, was uncharacteristically buoyant about the club's chances of atoning for last year's sins.

"We're a much different club from last year. We've got a lot more hitting. The pitching staff is deeper," Palmer said. "I figure we're a cinch to win at least one of these next eight."

Certainly the big Oriole streak of of '79 is vastly different from the string of '78. Then, all of 20 Oriole victories were by one run. This year, only one of 19 has been that close.

"This hitting has been twice as encouraging because we've done it without Doug DeCinces," said Weaver, whose Orioles are third in the majors in both runs and homers.

DeCinces, who came off the disabled list today, will need at least 10 days to get strong enough to rejoin the lineup.

"I don't know if Doug's still got a job," Coach Frank Robinson said.

If DeCinces returns to form, and the power quartet of Ken Singleton, Eddie Murray, Lee May and Gary Roenicke continues to produce, the Orioles may be able to start a debate with the Sox and Milwaukee Brewers over who has the majors' most muscle.

Boston, thanks to Fred Lynn's 13 early homers, has one more fourbagger and three more runs scored for the season than Baltimore.But the Sox play in the Fenway phone booth and the Orioles play in a pitcher's heaven.

For the past three seasons, the Orioles have followed a similar scenario-one that is almost macabre. After a distressingly bad start, the club sprints into contention, only to hit a losing streak of six, eight or nine games that seems to erode its self-esteem.

In all three seasons, strong stretch runs have helped disguise the fact that the Orioles have been peripheral to the last three division races, not integral parts of it as they were in Weaver's first six years.

"This is the earliest that we have gotten straightened out, and the earliest that we've gotten into first place," Weaver said.

"Every winner says the same thing . . . it is a broken record . . . the big names are having big seasons, and everybody else is picking each other up with key contributions. There's only one formula for winning. It may sound dull, but you love it."

In the next fortnight, Weaver hopes to continue his dull decisionless job. The kind of excitement his Orioles discovered here last year, he doesn't need again.