Washington doesn't kiss on the first decade.

But now, after nine years, this twice-jilted baseball town seems to be taking yet another of its tentative please-don't-hurt-me steps toward embracing the alien Orioles to its (cold, cold) heart.

Washingtonians, of course, refer to the team in question as "the Orioles," as though they belonged to the universal kingdom of baseball and had no specific connection with any city.

And Baltimoreans protectively call them "our Baltimore Orioles" just in case anybody wondered, or perhaps wanted to run off with them for a weekend in Ocean City.

Perhaps all such relationships have these tensions: "I'd like you to meet my dear friend the Orioles . . . no last names, please."

At any rate, all the customary empirical data that sports journalism such a precise science (number of Orioles caps per D.C. transit bus, percentage of barroom debates that take Earl Weaver's name in vain) point in the same few direction: Oriole fever in Washington has gone up a few more degrees.

"the Bird, Tim Stoddard and I were walking down L. Street last week, and everybody went nuts," Jim Curran said.

Since Stoddard is 6 feet 7 and the Bird (in his black-and-orange mascot costume) is even bigger, perhaps that might have been expected.

"Everybody was spinnig around on the street during lunch hour, asking how the Orioles were going to do against the Yankees," said Curran who works in the Orioles' Washington office (primarily corporate group sales) in the Jefferson Hotel at 16th and M Streets NW.

"It was 100 degrees and the poor guy inside the bird suit was dying, but everybody was begging us to come into their office building to shake hands," Curran said, marveling. "We made 'em a deal. 'If you have ice water for the Bird, we'll go."

The Orioles have been making Washington heads spin faster and faster during their hot-as-the-weather streak in which (entering last night) they were 10-0 for August.

"Baseball and the Birds have definitely become the overriding topic of sports conversation in this city in the summer," said Phil Wood, who does a nightly WTOP radio sports talk show that can be heard on much of the East Coast.

"Their winning streak, especially sweeping the Yanks in New York last weekend, has totally put the Redskins' training camp in the shade. We have more Oriole call-ins, and the people are more rabid. We had one guy call us long distance from Bermuda to argue about the race."

Maybe the greatest beneficiary of the orioles' 17 wins in 19 games is WDCA-TV-20, which carries Bird telecasts here.

"Come on, Oriole fever . . . we're 2 1/2 games behind and gaining," WDCA's director of programing, Susan Hornstein, said. "Those three games from New York last weekend were a dream for us. They went through the roof.

"But, God, do you know they came two days after the rating period ends! Now we'll never know exactly what ratings we got. Is that a pain or what? Who do we get in our July (ratings) book but the Brewers and Twins."

Channel 20 is so booked on Oriole magic that, according to Hornstein, "We'll pick up every feed that we can from WMAR-TV (in Baltimore) for the rest of the season. If it's offered, we'll take it. I myself even watched all three Yankee games and I'm not even sure which league Philadelphia is in."

"There's no question in my mind that we have more people listening to the Orioles in Washington every season," said Ed Tobias, program director of WTOP, the station now in its third year of picking up O's broadcasts. "Baseball is the perfect radio sport with half an ear without missing much and do something else at the same time."

You're next, Ken Beatrice.

"It is not just that interest in the Orioles is up in terms of numbers, but the depth of that interest, the knowledgeability of that interest, is greater," said Beatrice, host of WMAL radio's Sports Call.

"Last season, we felt an emotional response to a hot team, but now you are seeing a real understanding of what makes that team tick. People are getting into grasping the aesthetic of the sport and how the Orioles embody it."

Thank you, Ken. That will be enough.

"Fans are more excited by a team that falls behind and then pulls close," said Ben Robin of The Locker Room on Pennsylvania Avenue. "All our Oriole shirts, jackets, hats and pennants are moving fast."

Last year's hottest Locker Room baseball cap was a high-quality, special-issue, $10-each, '71 Washington Senators hat "with the Swiss pretzel design 'w'."

"People just yelled out when they saw it, 'Oh, you have a Senators hat.'" Robin said.

But this year, the Oriole cap has asserted itself, nudging past all the traditional favorities in itinerant Washington -- the Pirates, Dodgers, Red Sox.

"This year," Robin said, perhaps with reluctance, "we've sold more Oriole caps than Senators caps."

Does that mean that the Orioles cap is now No. 1?

"No," Robin said, "they're about tied with the Yankees -- just like in the standings."

Oriole interest even extends to the Eastern Shore beaches, perhaps the place where Washingtonians and Baltimoreans are most likely to meet on common rooting ground.

"Strangers would meet each other on the beach or the boardwald all last week and weekend in Ocean City and ask each other the latest Oriole score," said Charlie Brotman, dean of Washington sports promoters and publicists.

"All of us sports fans were a little out of touch with the world so we had to share information," Brotman added, laughing. "The Orioles were always the first question and the Redskins second or third I said, "Well, I'll be damned.'

"If anybody had a newspaper with a day-old box score, he had to share it so everybody could study up on the Orioles," said Brotman, the man behind the old Washington Senators panty hose nights. "I've never seen people from Washington so interested in anything from Baltimore."