The Baltimore Orioles lost the game tonight to the Cleveland Indians, 7-3, but they won the war and celebrated like champions.

The Orioles learned at 5:12 p.m. that they had won their first divisional title since 1974 when word came from Milwaukee that the Twins had beaten the Brewers, 6-3, mathematically eliminating the Orioles' last rival

But Manager Earl Weaver kept the champagne corked until after tonight's scheduled doubleheader. When the second game was rained out, the team celebrated.

Once they started, they wasted no time. The club had lugged six cases of champagne to Detroit earlier in the week and lugged it back, and when it was finally uncorked at 11:12 p.m., it disappeared fast. "What're you guys doing pouring it over heads," Manager Earl Weaver screamed as Kiko Garcia doused him. You're smarter than that. Use the beer."

Always mindful of their manager's instructions, the Orioles began pouring beer -- and champaign -- on anything that moved and several things that didn't including relief ace Don Stanhouse's stuffed gorilla.

"It doesn't matter how we won it," said right fielder Ken Singleton, perhaps the most valuable player on a team that received contributions from 25 men. "It feels good to win the best division in baseball. And winning by this much, no one can say we were lucky."

The actual clinching of this division championship -- their first since 1974 -- was something of an anticlimax because the Orioles had turned the Eastern Division race into little more than a Baltimore countdown in August with dominant pitching, superb fielding and consistent hitting.

"I started feeling in June like this was the year of The Bird," General Manager Hank Peters said. "We had those spectacular come-from-behind-wins and the fans got turned on."

Peters took one of most severe champaign-beer soakings of the night, victimized by the entire team when he entered the clubhouse.

Not present in the euphoric clubhouse was Edward Bennett Williams, who purchased the club Aug. 2. Williams watched the game with his guests, Sargent and Eunice Shriver and Joe DiMaggio, but left before the celebration.

"I love it," the Washington Redskins president said. "I think we have the best team and I think and hope we'll win the playoffs."

The playoffs seemed a long way off in the Baltimore locker room. Most of the talk was about how this team, picked for third or fourth in the division by many at the beginning of the season, had won 99 games, grabbing the division in a romp.

"There weren't too many people who thought we could do this at the beginning of the year," third baseman Doug DeCinces said. "But we thought from the beginning this was going to be our year."

The Orioles finished the wildest part of their celebration by dousing Wild Bill Hagey, leader of the infamous Section 34 cheering section, in alcohol.

Then, to make the night complete, Hagey spelled out his favorite word, "O-R-I-O-L-E-S," just as he does in 34 during games. The team chanted each letter with him.

Relief pitcher Tim Stoddard, a member of North Carolina State's 1974 NCAA championship basketball team, said, "Ain't no comparison between this and the NCAA. We never had a champagne party back then."

"It's been a long season," said Weaver, who has won six division titles in 11 full seasons as Baltimore manager. "We worked hard and played good consistent baseball. We earned it."

Less than 20,000 of th3 29,470 fans who bought seats were present but they cheered their team lustily.Missing was the traditional spectator romp on the field.

But it didn't matter. A sign displayed throughout Section 34 probably summed it up best. "You earned it Birds."

To a man, the Birds agreed.

In tonight's meaningless game, Cleveland's Cliff Johnson hit two homers. The game went into the sixth tied, 1-1, and the Orioles didn't appear too upset when the Indians exploded for six runs.

The teams will try to make up tonight's rained out game by playing a doubleheader at 2 p.m. Sunday.