Jim Palmer is a perfectionist and perfectionists live tortured lives.

Tonight, Jim Palmer beat the Yankees, 4-1, allowing three hits, only one of consequence, a fourth-inning homer by Dave Winfield. Afterward, he analyzed, quibbled and poo-poohed. "It was a game, that's all."

Who knows? Perhaps da Vinci didn't like the Mona Lisa, either.

Rick Dempsey, the Orioles' catcher, said, "The last four games, he looks like the Jim Palmer of five years ago."

Although some suggested it was a vintage performance, Palmer, who is 3-1 with a 2.63 ERA since returning to the starting rotation May 25, said, "Not by any means . . . I didn't have good control. I walked five guys. I was wild. I've got to win some of those 2-1 games."

He was one out from his first two-hitter since June 1, 1978 (against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium) when Winfield came to bat in the ninth. "A swinging bunt," Manager Earl Weaver said. Cal Ripken Jr., the third baseman, playing very deep, barehanded it, and threw late to first.

Weaver walked to the mound, reciting aloud his stats on Graig Nettles, the next batter, versus Tippy Martinez--three for 20 for a .150 batting average, with one of those hits having been a home run that beat the Orioles last year.

"I probably would have given up a two-run home run to Nettles," said Palmer. "That's why he (Weaver) has got a book out and I don't."

Exit Palmer, smiling. Nettles bounced to short for the easy force at second base. The Orioles have now won nine of their last 11 games, three straight from the Yankees, including two wins last week in Baltimore. The Yankees are now one game below .500.

The Orioles took the lead for good in the fourth. Rich Dauer led off with a single to right off loser Mike Morgan. Ken Singleton confounded everyone, apparently including Weaver, by bunting on his own discretion. "Nettles (the third baseman) was playing deep," he said.

Singleton's explanation was interesting because the ball trickled down the first base line. Catcher Butch Wynegar looked at it, started to go after it, held back in hope the ball would go foul, and finally threw, too late, to first.

Terry Crowley was the next batter because Eddie Murray flew home this morning to be with his mother, who had a heart attack Thursday night. There is no word when Murray will rejoin the team.

Crowley, who said, "It's the worst circumstance possible to play," nonetheless enjoyed it, singling home the Orioles' first run. Gary Roenicke singled under Nettles' glove for the second.

The Orioles scored twice more in the seventh, on a walk to Roenicke, a single by catcher Joe Nolan, a double by Lenn Sakata down the third base line, and a sacrifice fly by Al Bumbry.

Palmer, who is 16-6 lifetime at Yankee Stadium and has 28 career wins over the Yankees (more than any other active pitcher), had a one-hitter going through seven innings.

Besides Winfield, the only Yankees who reached base in the first seven innings were three Palmer walked in the first two innings. That's when he thought he should have come out. His forearm was feeling tight from pitching in the rain last time out, he said. His control wasn't what it should be.

You could have fooled the Yankees. And so he did.

He had trouble seeing the signs from Nolan, the starting catcher, because he said, "Joe's bowlegged and there was a shadow."

Tonight, out of 35,112 present in the stadium, the only person arguing with Palmer was Palmer.

"Sure, we have arguments," Weaver said, "but it's just like when you tell your wife the potatoes are overdone. She's still your wife."

And Palmer's still Weaver's pitcher.

"I'm sitting here because he's won a lot of ball games for me," Weaver said.

Of course, Palmer disagreed.