This one's going to have to be alittle different. Normal standards don't apply.

"If this game had been played in a World Series," said Ken Singleton after Baltimore had finished a three-game sweep over New York in Yankee Stadium with a 6-5 win today, "it wouldhave been talked about forever."

This masterpiece of heroics, strategy, tension and choking, accompanied by a grace note of the unbelievable, had one supreme instant.

In the top of the ninth inning with the Yankees leading, 5-4, Oriole Lenn Sakata was on third base with twoout. Bird catcher Rick Dempsey faced Yankee ace Tommy John with a 2-2 count. The Orioles were down to their final strike. A pennant race -- an entire season -- may have hung in the balance.

Not one player on either team would have denied that possibility. The symbolic weight of this three-hour struggle was enormous.

That moment -- John against Dempsey-- had been built magnificently.

The Orioles had given starter Mike Flanagan a 4-0 lead entering the bottom of the sixth. They seemed home free with an easy and demoralizing victory -- their ninth straight and 13thin 14 games -- that would cut their deficit in the American League East standings to 2 1/2 games.

The slow-footed Yankee outfield defense, once again, had handed the O's a pair of runs. The New Yorkers seemedterminally discouraged.

Yet in the sixth, with a bloop here and a rocket there, the Yanks tied the game, 4-4. The final emblematic blow was an RBI single by Reggie Jackson that knocked out the battling Flanagan.

The crowd of 54,123 had gone from morose and surly to ecstatic. "I've never heard people yell like that," said Dempsey afterward. "New Yorkers have different throat muscles."

An inning later, when the Yanks broke the tie with a seventh-inning run off Sammy Stewart, all the good Oriole work of their Friday and Saturday night victories seemed to have been undone.

Squandering the four-run dead was badenough -- especially after Earl Weaver had stuck with Flanagan througheight rocky hitters in one inning, only to see him driven to the showers in the end.

But -- far worse -- the go-ahead Yankee run had scored as the built-on-basics Orioles were botching an easy potential inning-ending double play with New Yorkers at the corners. It was Sakata who bollixed the grounder and only got one out. That, too, had implications because Sakata represented a dubious Weaver decision. What was a career .191 hitter doing in this game?

"At that point, we had 'em beat," said Yankee Rich Gossage. "And then we just gave it to 'em. God, that's what hurts so bad."

It was the tiny Sakata -- a weight lifer in 5-foot-7 disguise -- who led off the ninth inning with a towering flytoward the 430-foot sign in Death Valley. Left fielder Bobby Brown -- a defensive replacement -- stumbled back and back, but finally tapped his glove and had the ball surrounded.

And then he dropped it.

That blunder was the penultimate fauxpas in a weekend of horrid Yankee outfielding. Sakata ended at third with a "triple."

It hardly seemed possible that this game could be any tighter. Oriole center fielder Al Bumbry had already made a streaking backhanded stab of a bases-loaded Bob Watson drive before crashing into the 430-foot sign in the sixth. And, in the seventh, Bumbry had backed to the 417-foot sign in dead center, leaped and caught a Jackson bid for a three-run home run that would have been the 400th of his career -- and would have iced this game to boot.

"I thought it was gone," said Jackson, who called this game "the most frustrating I can ever remember in my career."

It was gone -- until Bumbry brought it back from atop the sevenfoot fence. It was gone, just like this game -- until the Orioles returned in the ninth.

With Sakata at third, John retired pinch hitter Lee May on a soft liner to short. Then Rich Dauer, the best Oriole hitter with men in scoring position (.360 this season), flied to short center.

That fly might have -- just might have -- tied the game. But Cal (Hold 'em Cal) Ripden, third base coach -- who has a poor record, to say the least, on his stop and go decisions -- threw up the barricade and Sakata never got a chance to match his fleet feet against Ruppert Jones' off-line throw to home plate.

Suddenly, the shoe was on the other foot. The Orioles, given a gift hope of a glorious tie and a fresh start, were about to hand the game back, leave town 4 1/2 games behind and restore the Yankees' euphoric and confident frame of mind.

Who was Dempsey to pass such a clutch test? True, he had gotten the first hit off John, and had also opened the Oriole scoring with a solo home run to left in the third inning.

But an Dempsey made his home run trot it was obvious that he was injured. He runs the bases faster with pillows under his uniform, a tarp on the field and rain falling.

"It's both legs that are hurt," said Dempsey. "Pulled hamstring, bruises, and then I fell into the dugout going for a foul pop on Friday."

Dempsey didn't help matters today with two of the greatest, most awkward, most inspirational, most unbelieveable catches of foul pops ever seen.

On the first, he seemed like a drunk being buffeted by high winds before finally lunging on his gut, face in the dirt, throwing his glove out wildly and having the ball stick in the web.

"Now the second catch," explainedDempsey, "was the tough one."

On that one, he sprinted straight toward the backstop, dove head-first at the wall, caught the ball inches from the ground and smashed his head and various other parts of his indestructable anatomy into the wall.

Flanagan walked to home plate and waited for Dempsey to limp back to pick up his mask so he could publicly shake the catchers' hand.

And so, with the game, and maybe the Oriole season, at stake, and facing 15-game winner John in the ninth with two out and two strikes, Dempsey thought about his hero, the man who helped him learn the game when Dempsey broke in as a Yankee: Thurman Munson.

"I had a Thurman game today," said Dempsey. "lots of pain . . . lots of luck . . . victory."

John threw a sinker at the low outside corner. "I didn't hit it. I just threw the bat out and got a flare off the very end," said Dempsey.

As the feeble flare fluttered over second basemen Willie Randolph's head, the Yankees died -- certainly forthis series, and probably for this season, because it is they who must now catch the Orioles, no matter what the standings say.

Sakata walked home to tie the game, 5-5. Dempsey jumped up and down in glee beside first base. The Orioles went berserk.

And the Yankees stood numbly in the house that Ruth Built and ruthlessness rebuilt. Most frozen of all was Yankee Manager Dich Howser. Every strategic factor was like a gun barrel pointed at his head.

Gossage's arm was tired and he couldn't pitch. Reliever Ron Davis was ready, but Howser dared not use him because the next Oriole batters, Singleton and Murray, are both switch-hitters. Better to leave a great pitcher -- John -- on the mound, even though he was exhausted.

Howser's hands had beed tied when Dempsey came to the plate because he feared the pinch-hit bats of Terry Crowley and John Lowenstein if he summoned Davis. Now, his feet were bound, too, by the back-to-back switchhitters.

The end was inexorable, almost plotted like a final chapter in John R. Tunis' cornball fiction. Singleton walked on five pitches and Eddie Murray laced a liner to right field -- directly at Jackson's feet.

Since no Yankee outfielder made a good play in this entire series, there was no reason for Jackson to break the trend.

He froze and had the game-winning hitskip at his feet and bounce off his chest for an embarrassing double.

To add the final insult, it was the Orioles' Big Foot -- Tim Stoddard -- who got the victory with four final relief outs. He overmatched the Yankees in a one-two-three ninth inning.

Weaver, who could have gotten a royalroasting for an afternoon of tactics worthy of a punch-drunk taxi driver, ended the day in a state of barely supressed euphoria.

"I said if we split these eight gamesagainst the Yankees, we'd have a helluva shot to win," said Weaver, whose Birds have a five-game rematch in Baltimore with the Yankees, beginning Thursday. "Well, now, we've got a little bigger shot. Now, we've got a two-ounce (shot) glass."

When these teams think back on a nonpareil Sunday duel in the sun, they will have much to cogitate. Flanagan escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first. The duo of Little Foot and Big Foot (Tippy Marinez and Stoddard) escaped a two-on, noneout Yankee eighth without allowing a run. Ruppert Jones failed to catch yet another routine fly to center in the heart of a three-run Oriole third inning.

But, in the end, when the crescendo of this baseball weekend is remembered, it will be Dempsey limping around the bases, Dempsey smashing into walls, Dempsey stumbling his way to a filth brilliance, and, finally, Dempsey sticking his bat out to turn a perfect pitch into a homely hit, that will remain.

"Dempsey loves the pain, loves it," said Weaver, still walking in little circles of excitement in his office. "Next time he comes up in the ninth in that situation, if I see he isn't limping,I'm going to run out and kick him in the calf."

Dempsey smiled at the idea. "Seems like its the Yankees who are limping," he laughed. "They're in a bad way right now."