Cal Ripken's three-run homer proved to be just enough offense for the Baltimore Orioles tonight as they worried their way to a 3-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

It was the fourth time in four tries this season that the defending American League champions have lost to the Orioles. The Brewers might file this one under the heading of unfinished business.

The Brewers stranded 12 base runners, nine in scoring position. Coincidentally, nine of them were left after Ripken hit his 10th home run of the season, in the third inning.

"Whew," said a relieved Oriole Manager Joe Altobelli. "I got so excited I had to run into the clubhouse and get a cigar when it was over. Twelve left on base. Thank God for small favors."

While he was at it, he could also thank Tippy Martinez, the Orioles' third pitcher of the night. Martinez put down the final Milwaukee threat in the ninth when he made Ted Simmons bounce into a double play.

Milwaukee had already scored its second run on Paul Molitor's leadoff homer in the ninth. The Brewers had runners on first and third on sharp singles by Robin Yount and Cecil Cooper when Martinez wiggled off the hook by getting Simmons to hit a sharp grounder to Ripken at shortstop.

The Brewers did a lot of that every time they appeared to have something going. Rookie Allan Ramirez (1-0) got credit for his first win in the majors, battling the Brewers and his own wildness for five innings.

He yielded five hits and four walks before giving way to Sammy Stewart. The Brewers scored off Ramirez in the fifth on singles by Rick Manning, Yount and Cooper.

He left with a 3-1 lead, though, thanks to Ripken's home run off Don Sutton. Lenn Sakata, who singled, and Dan Ford, who walked, scored ahead of Ripken, who put a 2-0 pitch from Sutton over the left field fence, about 390 feet from home.

"Sutton's the kind of pitcher who can beat you even when he doesn't have good stuff," said Ripken. "He struck me out three times when we played them at home. He's a real competitor. I like to think I'm a competitor, too, and I was looking to get him back tonight.

"Basically, it was just a fast ball down the middle. We had runners on first and third and I wanted to be patient and make sure I got a fast ball that was good enough for me to hit."

This time it was because of the relief work of Stewart and Martinez. Stewart set the Brewers down in the sixth and seventh, then got into a spot in the eighth when he gave up singles to Roy Howell and Mark Brouhard with no out.

Enter Martinez, who got the first out of the inning with a force play at second off Jim Gantner's bunt. Martinez struck out pinch hitter Don Money, and catcher Joe Nolan completed an inning-ending double play by throwing out Gantner, who was trying to steal second.

Molitor's drive to left narrowed the score to 3-2 in the ninth. And after Rob Picciolo bounced out, things really grew nervous for the Orioles as Yount and Cooper singled. Not to worry. Simmons hit the first pitch into the final double play.

"I was just trying to get a breaking ball over for a double play," said Martinez, "and that's what he hit. Simmons is as good a breaking-ball hitter as there is in the league, but if I was going to lose, it would be with my best pitch. The two singles they got were on breaking balls that didn't break. They don't let you get away with much."

Tonight, the Orioles got away with plenty.