The Birds reached deep again for Oriole magic tonight, but came up empty. Instead, it was Oakland pitcher Rick Langford (15-11) who performed the sleight of hand act before more than 33,000 in Memorial Stadium, shutting down the Orioles, 3-2, with his 21st straight complete game. Langford's feat will be recorded as a modern-ear record.

"I wouldn't have taken Langford out of the game tonight if he had put seven guys on base in the ninth," said A's Manager Billy Martin. "Not after last night I wouldn't." Friday evening his seldom-used relief pitchers allowed a four run lead to evaporate in the eighth and ninth.

In almost happened again tonight as, with two out and nobody on base, pinch hitter Pat Kelly stroked a double up the power alley in right.

Pinch hitter No. 2, Benny Ayala, made Manager Earl Weaver look like a genius for the second straight night as he lined a base hit down the third base line into the left field corner, scoring Kelly. Oakland 3, Baltimore 2. Still life.

But wait.Ayala gets the "go for two" sign from first base Coach Frank Robinson and is nailed easily at second by left fielder Rickey Henderson's knee-high strike to Dave McKay. Game over. Orioles drop 3 1/2 games behind the winning Yankees.

"I'm very surprised they made that play at such a crucial point in the game," said Henderson, who leads the A's outfielders, who have 36 assists this season, with 15.

"The ball kind of skidded on the gravel as it bounced into the corner. But I picked it up and Ayala was just rounding first base by a couple of steps. I looked at him real good and he just kept coming. So I threw. I knew I had him." It wasn't close.

"Look, I did my job," said a disgruntled Ayala in the quiet-as-a-church Oriole locker room. "I had to go. If he makes the perfect throw I'm out. If he doesn't, I'm on second with the tying run. I was sent up as a pinch hitter and I got my hit. I did my job."

Ayala's three-run eight inning pinch hit home run Friday night set the stage for that dramatic comeback win in the ninth.

The ending of tonight's game was particularly ironic since Weaver had said after Friday's game, "You may as well play it safe on the bases with the Oakland outfielders. They're the best in the league defensively and they'll throw anybody out in a minute. Nobody goes nowhere on them."

Henderson, who also had a hit and his 71st stolen base, made a winner out of iron-man Langford, who has pitched 24 complete games this season and 236.41 out of 247 possible innings. The Orioles had beaten the 28-year-old right-hander twice by one run this season, but he scattered eight hits tonight and got good defensive help from first baseman Dave Revering. Langford has not been relieved since May 18.

"I was a little tired because of the humidity in the early innings," Langford admitted. "But I never think about complete games. I take it one pitch, one batter, one inning at a time. I know I'll come out of the game sometime, but when I do I'll walk off the mound with my head high."

The only other run Langford permitted came on Terry Crowley's eighth home run, to right field leading off the seventh inning.

But Langford was at his sinker balling, side winding, speed changing best when he wiggled out of his toughest jam in the eighth inning, when the Orioles loaded the bases with one out.

Al Bumbry and Jon Lowenstein had singled and Eddie Murray had walked. But Ken Singleton flied out to left and Crowley grounded into a force play to end the threat.

"Everybody in the park knew that was the ball game," said Langford, whose 2.98 earned run average places him among the top five in the league.

The A's scored a run in the first off Oriole loser Jim Palmer (15-10) on singles by Henderson and Dwayne Murphy and a sacrifice fly by Revering, who drove in two runs tonight. Jeff Newman hit his 14th homer, over the left field wall in the second, to give Oakland a 2-0 lead.

Oakland starting pitchers have allowed Baltimore batsmen only 15 hits in 25 innings in this three game series, which concludes Sunday afternoon. Martin said only a major catastrophy will prevent Steve McCatty from breaking the major league record (77) for complete games in a 162-game season set in 1968 by San Francisco.

"You can bet your house that we'll have to be losing 84-3 before I put in a relief pitcher tomorrow," Martin said.