The Boston Red Sox, in another episode of their tragicomic existence in the major leagues, put on an astounding display of basic baseball futility in treating the Baltimore Orioles to an 8-6 victory tonight.

The Orioles left the field thinking they had trimmed the New York Yankees' American League East lead to four again, but in keeping with the leaders' recent passion for astounding late-inning drama, the Yanks scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat Cleveland, 5-4. It was the Yankees' 10th one-run victory since August 26.

The Red Sox, who lost six of seven of New York two weeks ago, continue to play a pivotal role in the pennant race due to the sheer schizonphrenia of their play Tonight, the Sox went from exciting to ludicrous.

"There's no explaining the Red Sox," said Al Bumbry. "They play bad against the Yankees and good against us. Well, sometimes they play good against us."

'Sometimes' was the top of the eighth tonight. Trailing 5-4, the Red Sox went ahead 6-5, on singles by Jim Rice, Tony Perez and Garry Hancock and a Dwight Evans sacrifice fly.

Other times? The bottom of the same inning, when John Lowenstein singled and moved to second on Dan Graham's grounder to first. After a Doug DeCinces single put runners at the corners, Rich Dauer hit a slow roller to short that scored a run but Carlton Fisk, who moved from catcher to first base late in the game took his foot off the bag and Dauer was also safe. With men on first and second. Terry Crowley, pinchhitting for Mark Belanger hit a perfect double play ball back to pitcher Bob Stanley, who threw a perfect strike to shortstop Rick Burleson, who dropped the ball. Bases loaded. Bumbry followed with a two-run single and the O's were home free.

In the Oriole locker room, the depressing helpless sensation of winning and falling further out of contention was met with a customery absence of outward frustration.

"They (the Yankees) must be at the point where they feel they can't lose," said Bumbry. "We had that feeling last year."

"It's interesting to read in the paper the next day how they do it every night," said Earl Weaver."It's very disheartening . . ."

Graham was slightly more exasperated. "It's beginning to border on the ridiculous. We keep pulling out games like tonight and don't gain ground."

The Orioles and Red Sox were equally responsible for tonight's pullout. The decisive eighth inning was another day at the office compared to the bizzare first inning, which lasted 50 minutes.

Burleson lined a single off Oriole starter Jim Palmer. Ditto Dave Stapleton. Fisk then struck out but Rice, after fouling off five junk pitches by Palmer, hit a home run over the left field wall -- with a half swing -- and Boston led, 3-0.

The Orioles came right back. Bumbry and Pat Kelly hit consecutive singles. Sox starter Mark Crawford walked Ken Singleton, loading the bases for Eddie Murray. The first baseman hit a moderately paced ground ball to first but Tony Perez, whose range might be described as limited, watched the ball trickle by him into right field. Two runs scored. Lowenstein then singled to load the bases and Crawford was relieved by Bruce Hurst after getting no outs with 21 pitches.

Hurst promptly got two outs when Graham flied to right and Singleton tried to tag from third. Third base coach line he looked ready to block home plate, signaled Singleton to turn back when he was halfway. But Fisk fielded the throw to Glen Hoffman nailed Singleton at third.

Hurst then walked DeCinces to load the bases again, this time for Daucer, who continued his productive season by watching two runs score without swinging his bat. Hurst's wild pitch allowed Murray to score and his balk allowed Lowenstein to follow. After Dauer walked, Keith MacWhorter Replaced Hurst.

With Belanger up, DeCines tried to steal home but thought the better of it about 12 feet from home plate and, running way out of the baseline in foul territory, tried to sneak back casually into third base. Fisk threw to Hoffman, who tried to chase DeCinces and tag him out, but DeCinces outraced Hoffman and scored. After Belanger walked, MacWhorter finally got Bumbry to ground out, ending the inning.

The O's led, 5-3.

The Sox got one run back in the third and could have had two. Stapleton and Fisk singled, but Stapleton fell rounding second base and was called out when Dauer tagged him trying to scramble back. Instant replays clearly showed Stapleton's hand on the base ahead of Dauer's tag. After a walk to Perez, Hancock hit a soft roller to short that Belanger fielded, but he threw wildly to first, allowing an unearned run.

The Orioles led, 5-4, and Martinez relieved Palmer.