While all but 9,915 of their fans stayed home tonight, the Baltimore Orioles played up to the minority by manhandling the Detroit Tigers, 9-3.

After the game, the Orioles got the news that the league-leading New York Yankees were losing, 5-3, to the Toronto Blue Jays, in a rain-suspended game.

The O's moved within 5 1/2 games of the Yankees with the victory tonight.

"All we gotta do is win two games and the Yankees lose and the fans will be right back," said catcher Rick Dempsey.

Jim Palmer said, "The fans will be back . . . It's a weeknight."

And Manager Earl Weaver pulled Dempsey aside and said, "Let me tell you something about a penant race . . ."

What Dempsey needed Weaver to tell him about a pennant race is that you have to win down the stretch. The Yankees have been following that maxim as if losing was something strictly disallowed by team policy. The Orioles have also been winning, which has made their stretch drive particularly frustrating. aThey just can't seem to win enough.

By the fifth inning tonight, the Orioles nailed their 87th win of the year.

In this three-hour free-for-all, replete with errors, balks and wild pitches, Weaver was on hand only for the balk.

Ten pitches into the game Weaver flew out to first base when starter Mike Flanagan was called for a balk, attempting to pick Alan Trammell off first base. Weaver dispensed with his normal vaudeville routine and said one of the magic words to get promptly evicted by umpire Bill Haller.

"The man (Haller) made me mad by putting his hands on me and pointing at me. But that's been going on for a long time between him and me," said Weaver. "Other umpires, like (former American League umpire Ron) Luciano say it up front when they have a grudge. But this guy (Haller) says it to other baseball people and it gets back to me."

Flanagan didn't last much long than Weaver, just 2 1/3 innings in which he allowed three runs. He was ultimately kayoed by a two-run homer by John Wockenfuss in the third inning.

The Orioles also scored three runs in the first three innings on a two-run homer by Dan Graham in the second and an Eddie Murray sacrifice fly to score Al Bumbry, who reached on an error, in the third.

Flanagan, who had lost three of his previous four starts, had trouble finding the plate tonight and when he did, the ball was flying out harder than it came in. Stand-in manager Carl Ripken took Flanagan out of the game before he caused any more damage and the move paid off as Sammy Stewart came in to anesthetize the next 10 Tiger bats.

"I might have to talk to Mike," said Weaver of Flanagan, the league's Cy Young winner last year. "Maybe he's got too many innings (pitched). I'll watch him when he throws next time."

In the fifth inning, the O's scored three runs. Loser Roger Weaver (2-2) was lifted after Baltimore loaded the bases. Reliever Dave Rozema gave up a two-run single to Terry Crowley and a RBI single to Graham.

The Orioles scored again in the sixth on singles by Mark Belanger, Rich Dauer and Ken Singleton. Dauer smashed a two-run single in the seventh to close out the scoring.

Stewart didn't allow a hit until the eighth inning (he gave up three hits in 5 1/3 innings) but loaded the bases with nobody out in the ninth. Tim Stoddard came in and protected the six-run lead by striking out Rick Peters and Trammell and then getting Al Cowens to fly out to end the game. The win was the fifth for Stewart on the year.