Few things help a team cope with continual pennant race strain more than playing atrociously, yet winning by a hair's-breadth.

Real luck is doing your worst and being rewarded.

That's why the Baltimore Orioles munched their cold cuts and swigged their beer with such relish after Mike Flanagan beat the Minnesota Twins, 3-2, tonight in Memorial Stadium on a battling five-hitter.

That's why they cheered every punch of a boxing match on TV with such gusto just minutes after John Lowenstein's two-run pinch-hit single in the eighth had turned a 2-1 deficit into the Orioles' eighth win in 10 games.

"Ooooohh, right in the face," cooed the O's as they watched each left hook and right cross. Each blow symbolized a knockout to the bad luck and bad chemistry of their first 100 games this year.

These Orioles are a team full of frustration and angered pride. They are a team that wants to punch something.

If they hadn't won tonight, they might have punched each other.

"There were plenty of sparks on that bench," said one anonymous Orioles. "Earl (Weaver) was on a lot of people's cases and they were getting back on his. We had some nice shouting matches in this one."

The American League champions had plenty to be hot about -- they were terrible, right down to and including Weaver.

For two hours, all the grim, nagging trademark of this miasmal season hung like a swampy strench over this muggy, grumbling ballyard.

The O's had put 15 men on base yet trailed, 2-1, as Lowenstein stepped up in the eighth.

"To that point, the game had been like a miniature of this whole ugly season," said Flanagan.

"Lord, I don't know when I've seen such base running," said General Manager Hank Peters.

The crowd of 21,839 thought it had seen the worst when Eddie Murray and Ken Singleton ended rallies with double play grounders. Then, they were certain that nothing could surpass watching Mark Belanger get hit in the hip with a Rich Dauer liner that would have been a game-tying hit, but was instead the inning's last out.

"One of the most embarrassing plays of my career," Belanger said.

But the coup de grace was the awful eighth -- an inning of pure ignominy that turned out to be the winner.

After a Singleton walk, Weaver sent in Kiko Garcia to pinch run.

"No comment. . . . I'll leave that one alone . . . what a beaut," said a succession of Orioles, rolling their eyes, when asked if Singleton should have been lifted so early with the distinct possibility that he might have batted with the game on the line in the ninth.

When Garcia almost didn't make it to second base on Murray's line single -- bellyflopping to barely beat a force throw from right field after breaking in the wrong direction twice on the hit over the leaping second baseman's glove -- the pinch-running move looked humorous.

When Weaver let the next hitter, Don Graham, swing away instead of sacrifice, the decision went against everybody's book.

When Graham hit a waist-high liner directly to the shortstop, which Garcia ineptly turned into a double play by getting trapped off second, the egg on the face of the Orioles' chief genius was fried to a crisp.

That was the nadisr of an evening that had seen a half-dozen Oriole liners find Twin gloves, and had also seen Flanagan open up a two-run Minnesota third inning by walking the No. 8 and No. 9 hitters to start it off.

From that instant, the angel of baseball luck landed on the Birds' shoulder, enabling them to stay 7 1/2 games behind New York.

Twins reliever Doug Corbett walked Gary Roenicke and Terry Crowley to load the bases, then fell behind, 2-0, to Lowenstein. The pinch-hitter lashed at a fast ball down the pipe and hit a humble six-hop grounder past the mound, a blow weaker than a dozen other Baltimore wallops.

But this one crept under the glove of diving Rob Wilfong to win the game.

That set up a glorious Flanagan stand in the ninth, as the southpaw won his third in a row. After an opposite-field double be Ron Jackson and a long fly put a man at third with one out, Flanagan faced Dave Edwards, whom he had fanned three times.

"Throw him curves," Weaver growled at the mound.

Flanagan threw curves, and Edwards ended up on his knees at the plate, flailing helplessly for his fourth whiff.

When Butch Wynegar dribbled the next pitch to shortstop, the Orioles' sublimely homely win was history.

"Everything's been hard all year," said Flanagan. "But the guys have made me a promise. They're going to get me seven runs in the first inning of the World Series."