This time, the lead did not go up in bullpen smoke for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Today, cool as can be, the Blue Jays defeated the Baltimore Orioles, 5-3, before 25,111 at Memorial Stadium, slapping the Orioles with their first loss of the season.

It's only April, but scoreboard observers quietly noted that Detroit once again has jetted to a first-place 5-0 start, one up on Baltimore.

Gobbling franks and beans in the Orioles locker room late today, Manager Joe Altobelli said of his team's 4-1 start, "If I was guaranteed four out of five every time, you'll bet I'll be happy. Anytime you get outhit 12-4 like today, and you're still in it in the ninth, you've got to think you're playing good ball."

The Blue Jays (3-3) avoided a sweep in today's final of a three-game series primarily because of the efforts of Doyle Alexander, Rance Mulliniks and Jim Acker.

Alexander (1-0) managed to overlook a two-run homer he yielded to Eddie Murray in the first by retiring the next 10 batters he faced. And by the time third baseman Wayne Gross hit a solo homer 10 rows into the right field bleachers in the seventh, closing the Orioles to 5-3, it hardly mattered.

Mulliniks and Acker made certain of that. Mulliniks is the third baseman acquired by the Blue Jays in 1982 in the barely recalled trade with Kansas City for pitcher Phil Huffman.

"At that point in my career," Mulliniks, 29, said today, "I was thinking I better do something in a hurry or I might not be playing much longer."

Mulliniks did his finest Ty Cobb impression today, going four for four. Taking his turn in the platoon with Garth Iorg against right-hander Mike Boddicker (1-1), Mulliniks walked, singled, doubled twice and then got a two-run homer (after Damaso Garcia reached on Gross' error) off reliever Sammy Stewart for the final Toronto runs in the seventh. In all, Mulliniks knocked in three runs.

Acker entered after Alexander had walked Rick Dempsey with two out in the seventh and the Blue Jays ahead, 5-3.

Toronto's major fault last season, when it finished a second-place 89-73, 15 games behind the Tigers, was the bullpen. The Blue Jays were a pathetic 22-28 in games in which they entered the seventh inning with the lead.

"After a while, it was almost like everybody went to the park wondering which one of us would screw up in the bullpen tonight," recalled Acker.

So the Blue Jays acquired right-handed Bill Caudill (36 saves) from Oakland and left-handed Gary Lavelle (17 saves-plus-victories) from San Francisco.

On Saturday, Lavelle and Caudill allowed the Orioles six runs in the eighth inning, three on a homer by Murray, to turn a 7-2 lead into an 8-7 Baltimore victory.

There was no such hardship today. Acker entered and got Mike Young to fly to left to end the seventh. In the eighth, Acker got Cal Ripken to ground to the mound and held Murray (who already has hit three homers) to a fly to center.

And after Fred Lynn opened the ninth with a single to put the tying run at the plate, John Lowenstein's line drive was caught by shortstop Tony Fernandez, who then nabbed Lynn at first for a double play. Gross flied out and, at last, the Toronto bullpen had persevered.

Toronto Manager Bobby Cox said he warned his hitters before the game to wait on Boddicker, renowned for his offspeed pitches.

So the Blue Jays waited until the fifth inning. That's when they got a run-scoring double by Mulliniks, a run-scoring single by Willie Upshaw and a run-scoring ground out by George Bell to transform a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead.

"I didn't pitch that badly," said Boddicker, who yielded nine hits in six innings. "I'm not walking anybody like I did last year (in April). They've been getting their hits, but then I've been notorious for giving up hits early in the year. I kept us in the ballgame. It was 3-2 in the seventh (when Stewart entered). I did my job."

Alexander did his job, too. He finished 17-6 last season, leading the league in winning percentage, although his efforts went almost unnoticed. Cox said that, had the Blue Jays' bullpen been more proficient last season, "Doyle would have won 23 or 24 games."

When a reporter told Alexander that "everything seemed to be working today," the pitcher wrinkled his face slightly and said nonchalantly, "Sometimes everything worked. Sometimes nothing worked."

The Orioles' fifth provided Exhibit A of such a game truth. That's when Alexander walked the bases loaded with two out, before he induced rookie outfielder Larry Sheets to end the inning with a fly to left.

"He mixed up his pitches well," Ripken, who went hitless in four at-bats, said. "He threw off our timing. You think you get a bead on him and you come out too soon and hit it off the end of the bat."

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays headed out feeling confident that there are fewer and fewer matchbooks kept in their bullpen.

"Not a lot of big names on this team," Upshaw said of the Blue Jays, "just the right ingredients."