The only thing missing was the standing ovation. Jim Palmer didn't get one, because he didn't return to the mound for the eighth inning. But by that time, Palmer's night was complete even if his game wasn't.

In seven innings tonight, Palmer allowed only three hits and no earned runs. At least against Minnesota, he again was the Master. Palmer's effort and four runs in the first three innings, including a homer by Cal Ripken, were all Baltimore needed to beat Minnesota, 5-3, before 33,921 in Memorial Stadium.

It was the Orioles' fourth straight victory, their 11th in the last 14 games, and assured them of staying atop the American League East for at least another night.

Most important, perhaps, it was Palmer's first victory since June 19, when he allowed three hits and no runs in 5 1/3 innings against Boston. This was only his second start after being sidelined since July 3 with tendinitis in his right triceps muscle, although he made two rehabilitative appearances in the minor leagues.

"He spotted the ball well, I thought, and he had good control," catcher Rick Dempsey said. "I've seen him throw better; he didn't have much velocity. He wasn't overpowering like Jim Palmer can be. But he's working himself back into shape. It takes more than one or two starts to get it back.

"He can't just walk out there in the second start and be Cy Young again," Dempsey said. "But he pitched a little on the inside corner tonight, which is good because it shows he's ready to challenge some people. I think it will be two more starts before his arm strength is back. His effort wasn't that much better than before, except that time (Aug. 21 against Kansas City) he gave up three more runs."

Just then, Dempsey looked up from his locker, and over toward Palmer's locker. "Where is Palmer, again, by the way?" Dempsey asked a group of reporters. "He's left? What's new? Why don't you guys barricade the door and get him the next time after he pitches?"

Actually, Palmer hadn't left. At one point he walked around the training room with half the right side of his body covered by an ice pack. And after 20 more minutes, he emerged and said he didn't care to talk.

Maybe Palmer was a little jittery from the ninth inning, when Minnesota had the tying runs on base against Tippy Martinez with two out.

Palmer had given up a game-opening, infield single to Darrell Brown, then retired 13 straight Twins before Todd Cruz made a ridiculous throwing error that allowed Gary Gaetti to reach base with one out in the fifth. Only perfectionist Palmer knows how much the error bothered him. But the next batter, Mickey Hatcher, lined a single to left to score the unearned run.

Palmer retired seven of the last eight hitters he faced--he walked Kent Hrbek in the sixth-- and left with a 5-1 lead, having thrown 99 pitches and thoroughly befuddling the visiting hitters.

Dempsey was asked if the Twins were waiting for the overpowering Palmer, instead of the version that was on the mound tonight. "Maybe so," Dempsey said, "because they let some pretty good pitches go."

Martinez came in to pitch the eighth. He allowed a two-out base hit to John Castino, walked Gary Ward on five pitches, and gave up a single to Hrbek that made it 5-2.

In the ninth, Martinez gave up a double off the left field wall to Gaetti, then wild-pitched him to third. The final run scored on Hatcher's infield single.

"I was trying to find my release point," said Martinez, "and I wound up rushing."

Martinez struck out Tom Brunansky and forced Brown to ground out, but that was Martinez' 54th pitch, in only 1 2/3 innings. So Manager Joe Altobelli called on Tim Stoddard, who threw one pitch, resulting in Castino's game-ending grounder--to earn his eighth save of the season.

Baltimore scored three runs in the first inning on an RBI ground out by Ripken, RBI fielder's choice by Eddie Murray and RBI single by John Lowenstein.

Ripken hit his 19th home run--a mammoth shot to left--for a 4-0 lead in the third. And the Orioles scored their last run in the sixth when Ken Singleton beat the relay throw from second on what looked like a double play ball, to score Ripken. Ripken had singled, advanced to second on Murray's single and gone to third on a fly out by Lowenstein.