Retaining early leads and, when necessary, parlaying late-game big innings into comeback victories has been the Baltimore Oriole success formula during the team's 81-day retention of first place in the American league East

The Milwaukee Brewers doused the Birds tonight with that same chemistry to snap a seven-game losing streak to the Orioles and escape with a 7-5 victory at Memorial Stadium.

Baltimore blew 3-0 and 4-3 leads, stranded at least two base-runners in one-out situations on three occasions and watched an uncharacteristic three enemy long balls leave the park to mark the third consecutive game that an opponent has come from behind to leave the Orioles tasting defeat. The loss left Baltimore five games ahead of the Boston Red Sox, who swept past Cleveland, 12-3.

Brewer left fielder Dick Davis clouted a two-run homer off reliever Sammy Stewart with no outs in the eighth inning to snap a 5-5 tie and hand Baltimore only its sixth loss in 21 starts since the All-Star break.

But not until the Orioles fizzled with two on in the bottom of the eighth and had gone down in order in the ninth would the Memorial Stadium crowd of 39,524 -- putting the home attendance over 1,000,000 at the earliest point in history -- concede that their favorites would drop their 12th home game in 51 this season.

Oriole Manager Earl Weaver played the contest under protest, the third time this season Weaver has appealed a game. Chances are that Weaver will be no more successful with this protest than he was in losing the first two.

This instance was similar to the first two in that Weaver's concern involved a pictcher's warmup tosses. Brewer Manager George Bamberger inserted ace Mike Caldwell, who injured his ribs in an altercation with Yankee Reggie Jackson late last month, took his warmup pitches with Oriole leadoff man Al Bumbry in the on-deck circle. Before Bumbry could bat, Bamberger removed Caldwell from the mound for Jim Slaton. The Brewer had aggravated the injury.

Weaver protested on the basis that a starting pitcher must face at least one batter before yielding to a reliever. But chief umpire Larry barnett ruled that since Caldwell had injured himself warming up, he was in effect never the starting pitcher.

"The umpires said nothing to Bamberger, they just let Caldwell walk off the field," said Weaver. "They just said 'To hell with the rules.' The poor opposing manager doesn't know who he's going to face. Maybe we can find a lefty with a tender arm to put out there just for warmups."

However, facing a still-cold and surprised Slaton was, if anything, a blessing for the Birds. Bumbry finally got to bat and made the most of the on-deck time with a double. After Mark Belanger walked, Ken Singleton's single scored Bumbry, Belanger going to third. Eddie Murray sacrificed Belanger home and Baltimore held a 2-0 lead at the end of the first.

The Orioles had Slaton in trouble again in the next inning, loading the bases with one out. But Belanger hit into a fielder's choice as an Oriole was nabbed at the plate, and Singleton flied out.

Lee May's opposite field homer, his 17th, made it 3-0 after three innings. The Brewers tied in the top of the fourth, chasing Oriole starter Scott McGregor. Right fielder Sixto Lezcano blasted a two-run homer and Robin Yount a run-scoring double to do the damage.

Belanger's sacrifice fly to score Rick Dempsey in the Oriole half of the fourth gave Baltimore its final lead, 4-3.

A two-run homer by Gorman Thomas in the fifth gave the Brewers a 5-4 advantage. Pinch hitter Pat Kelly, who rs hitting a splendid .530 (nine for 17) in that capacity, lashed a homer leading off the seventh to tie the count at 5-5. That set the stage for Davis' 10th homer of the year.

"Up to this point, we haven't been giving up those two-run homers," said Weaver. "But the way out guys have been pitching lately, you've got to expect them to throw a few gopher balls.

"But even then, we still had a chance to win. We let Slaton off the hook in the second when we should have put together a big inning. Singleton missed a grand slam by what, six feet?"

The Orioles saw their last chance slip away in the eighth when Kiko Garcia grounded out and Singleton popped out to end the inning with runners at second and third.