It took 18 seasons of professional pitching, but Jim Palmer has finally faced and, for the time being, accepted those cruel realities of pitching that less gifted men had to swallow on their first day.

Tonight in Yankee Stadium, the scene of so many of his graceful, overpowering youthful wins, Palmer crafted an underwhelming veteran's masterpiece that blended grit, guile, smarts and maybe a little cheating.

Palmer, a Hall of Fame corpse just a week ago when his status had sunk to bullpen mopup man, pitched the second consecutive complete-game victory of his suddenly revamped career this evening as he beat the New York Yankees, 5-1, on an almost effortless 96-pitch four-hitter.

The Orioles, who have won a modest two in a row, were helped by four Yankee errors, two wild pitches and a Ken Singleton liner that hit Ron Guidry in the left foot in the second inning and caused him to leave the game, trailing, 1-0. X-rays of Guidry's bruise showed no fracture. Only his won-lost record (11-4) suffered lasting damage.

"Just another win," said Palmer, who was aided by Rich Dauer's two-run homer and two RBI by Terry Crowley.

"PAlmer pitched another great game. What else is new?That's 248 (wins)," said Manager Earl Weaver as his team crept to 2 1/2 games behind Detroit with nine to play.

In fact, everything abut this old Palmer is new.

Three weeks ago, Weaver laid down the law to Palmer. At 35, he would have to pitch with pain, take cortisone shots, stop complaining and asking for special consideration. He would probably have to endanger his arm, and thus his chances for 300 career wins, because he simply wasn't good enough to hold a place in the rotation unless, in Coach Ray Miller's words, "he gives us everything he's got left."

After awful three starts, in which he gave up 14 runs in four innings, Palmer ended up in the bullpen. For seven days, like a journeyman long reliever, he jumped up when the phone rang. He threw a lot and he thought a lot.

Last weekend, the Orioles scratched Steve Stone from a Sunday start. Miller said he told Palmer, "The ball is yours."

"I look forward to winning," was all Palmer said.

That quote sent a buzz through the Oriole organization.

The Palmer who beat Milwaukee on a five-hitter was a familiar, but somehow changed, fellow.

First, his delivery was different: Palmer was back to the big, fluid, shoulder-twisting one he had used most of his career before abbreviating it in recent years to avoid injury. The long-range danger was greater, but so ws the chance for short-term results.

Second, Palmer returned without pain. This man who had always cursed the cortisone shot as the No. 1 killer of careers -- a mere masker of pain, not a medicine -- had chosen to take not one but two cortisone shots in a week. "I can take a cortisone shot (in the shoulder) before every start if I need to," said Palmer, 7-8 with a 3.57 ERA after this game. "It wont't hurt me."

Third, Palmer had a new pitch, what the Yankees called a "cut fast ball-type screw ball." The word "cut" was appropriate. Several Orioles, all anonymous, list Palmer among the game's large number of expert outlaw ball defacers. Palmer's new "tailing fast ball" was in evidence tonight.

Fourth, Palmer said before this game that he has "a new attitude."

That surfaced in the third inning, "Jimmy said, 'My shoulder is twinging like hell," said Miller. "He took off his shirt and the muscle was flippin' around like crazy. (Trainer) Ralph Salvon gave him a hard rub with hot Stuff and 96 pitches later, he'd beaten 'em.'

Hot stuff is so hot that many pitchers, including Don Drysdale, can't stand its pain. Now Palmer stands it.

"All I told Earl," said Palmer, "was that if he was going to take me out, then take me out before the fifth inning, 'cause I don't want people saying I'm just pitching long enough to get the win, then begging for the bullpen."

Fifth, in the late innings, Palmer never made his characteristic my-arm-is-tightening-up gestures on the mound. When he was hit with Dave Winfield's line drive to the shin in the ninth, he refused to be taken out and, after the game, proudly wore a ragged bandage around the bruise.

Finally, Palmer, the ultimate perfectionist, pitched like the ultimate realist. Instead of making the perfect pitch to the perfect spot, he made the utilitarian pitch to the decent spot. The result was nearly flawless control, every pitch on the outer half of the plate. Said Miller, "Keeping everything away may not be artistic, but it works."

Elsewhere in the major leagues:

Mike Hargrove, Toby Harrah and Ron Hassey each had three hits to lead the Cleveland Indians past host Boston, 5-2, and drop the Red Sox a game behind Detroit in the Al East. Hargrove, batting .722 in Fenway Park this season, singled home the tying run in the seventh inning and the Indians scored twice more in the inning, on a single by Von Hayes, a double by Harrah and an error on the play by Jim Rice.

Kansas regained first place in the AL West by defeating visiting Minnesota, 9-2. Amos Otis homered and Dennis Leonard (11-11) pitched his fourth straight complete game as the Royals moved a half-game ahead of idle Oakland.

Tom Paciorek's single in the 11th inning scored Dan Meyer from second as the Seattle Mariners beat the Rangers in Arlington, Tex., 2-1. Meyer had singled off loser Doc Medich (9-6) and stolen second base.

Dennis Lamp pitched a four-hitter and Harold Baines homered and drove in two runs as the Chicago White Sox defeated the Angels, 4-1, in Anaheim, Calif.

Montreal increased its lead in the NL East to 1 1/2 games over St. Louis as the Expos beat the Pirates, 7-1, in Pittsburgh while the Cardinals went down to their sixth defeat in seven games, a 14-6 loss to the Phillies in Veterans Stadium.

The Cubs had four homers in Shea Stadium, with Bobby Bonds' shot in the eighth inning breaking a tie and providing a 10-9 victory over the Mets. Ellis Valentine had two homers and drove in five runs for the Mets.

Houston beat visiting Atlanta, 5-3, as Art Howe drove in two runs and Dickie Thon and Jose Cruz each had three hits.

Mike Scioscia's three-run homer capped a five-run third innings as Los Angeles defeated the host San Francisco Giants, 7-3, to end a five-game losing streak.