Maybe it wouldn't have seemed so bad if the Cleveland Indians had won the way they're expected to--with three of the heaviest hitters in the American League.

But they beat the Orioles, 9-2, tonight when Scott McGregor missed tagging first base on the tail end of a double play and then threw an 0-2 strike to a player with seven career runs batted in, who promptly singled home two more.

It was not the way the Orioles, who have settled in a comfortable groove by winning four of their last five and 15 of their last 20 before tonight, would have preferred to lose their momentum. It also doesn't help any in their quest for second place to lose to a fifth-place team.

"The whole team was flat tonight," said Joe Nolan, who drove in both Oriole runs to bring his RBI total in the last 11 games to 13. "We didn't get behind Scott at all. I don't think we really had an off day. You're going to have a game like that every once in a while."

McGregor (8-6) concentrated on handling Toby Harrah, Mike Hargrove and Andre Thornton, whose on-base percentages all rank among the league's top five. True, Thornton hit his 19th home run of the year to put the Indians ahead early, 1-0, but Harrah, the league's leading hitter went only one for five, as did Hargrove.

It was players like Von Hayes and Mike Fischlin who did the most damage.

Thanks to Nolan's fourth-inning single, the Orioles led, 2-1, until the sixth, when the Indians blew out McGregor with four runs. Hargrove and Thornton got the rally started, with Alan Bannister scoring on Thornton's double.

After Chris Bando, a .231 hitter who was four for four tonight, walked, Von Hayes hit a ground ball to Eddie Murray that might have gone for a double play and ended the inning. But McGregor took Bob Bonner's return throw from second about a foot from the bag and missed when he stabbed at it with his foot.

Rick Manning walked to load the bases again, and then Fischlin, the No. 8 hitter, clubbed a high change-up over Rich Dauer's head to score Thornton and Bando.

The Indians, who have won 21 of their last 32, scored four more runs in the eighth to up their lead to 9-2. They went through three pitchers, as Ross Grimsley, who replaced McGregor, Tippy Martinez and Tim Stoddard all gave up runs.

Martinez walked the No. 9 hitter, .221-hitting Jack Perconte, for a run and Stoddard also walked in a run with the first man he faced, Bannister.

"Those two four-run innings did us in," said Orioles Manager Earl Weaver. "That's what we've been doing, getting away from those. In football, when one team gets blown out, there are a lot of good plays--like long runs and touchdown passes. but in baseball, you just have the bloops."

The Orioles also got a shock tonight from John Denny, a gangly junk pitcher who had lost his last six games on the road. For seven innings, he kept the Orioles off balance with his herky-jerky delivery, giving up just three hits in raising his record to 5-8.

His relief, Tom Brennan, also befuddled the Orioles with a quirky motion, giving up a single hit in earning his first save.

While Denny was uncharacteristically sharp, McGregor continued his recent slide, losing for the second straight time.