Rookie Ken Dixon came within a few pitches of the record books last night and put the Baltimore Orioles in first place in the American League East.

Aided by three home runs during a six-run sixth inning, the 24-year-old right-hander pitched a three-hitter and the Orioles defeated the Cleveland Indians, 7-1, before 19,494 at Memorial Stadium to steal the divisional lead from the Detroit Tigers.

Eddie Murray, Fred Lynn and Rick Dempsey homered in the big inning to give Dixon (1-0) plenty to work with. In earning his first major league victory, he stayed ahead of the hitters and allowed more than one base runner in only two innings. Cleveland had two on and two out in the fourth but Dixon got George Vukovich on a line drive to Jim Dwyer in right field.

Dixon then retired 13 straight before the Indians scored in the ninth. Cleveland had won three of its last four and six of nine before last night.

That first major league victory "is what you play your whole life for," Dixon said. "I hope that's going to be a sign of good things to come. I just wanted to keep things close. Maybe get some runs late in the game. When we got that lead, my main objective was to throw strikes. I stayed with my fast ball and breaking stuff and had pretty good control.

"I threw a couple of change-ups early but chucked it after the first couple of innings when I realized I could get people out with the fast ball and curve."

"Dixon pitched a good ball game," his manager, Joe Altobelli, said. "He pitched well all though spring training. You couldn't ask for more. He pitched his way onto the ball club and he's continued to pitch well. We like what we've seen."

Dixon, who has allowed only eight hits and two earned runs in 15 1/3 innings, threw 108 pitches last night. He walked two and struck out six, including power hitting Andre Thornton twice. It was designated hitter Thornton's first game back after preseason knee surgery.

For the first five innings, the Indians' starter, Jose Roman (0-3), was almost as effective, yielding only Mike Young's bunt single in the fifth.

"I felt strong in the first five innings," said Roman, 21, who pitched for the Indians' AA Eastern League farm team in Buffalo last year. "But in the sixth, I started feeling tired. I couldn't throw my fast ball hard anymore by the time I came out."

Baltimore (9-6) pushed across an unearned run in the fourth to take a 1-0 lead. Cal Ripken drew a one-out walk and went to third when third baseman Brook Jacoby allowed Murray's check-swing grounder to roll under his glove for a two-base error. Ripken scored on Lynn's bouncer to first.

The Orioles got to Roman in the sixth and finished him off. After Ripken led off by reaching first on Jacoby's throwing error, Murray hit one of Roman's fast balls deep in the right-field stands for his fourth homer this season and a 3-0 Baltimore lead.

Lynn followed with another home run to right field.

"I tried to throw a hard fork ball to Murray," Roman said, "but didn't throw it hard enough, and he hit it. I tried an offspeed pitch (to Lynn) but it didn't break at all."

Larry Sheets walked and lefthanded Mike Jeffcoat relieved Roman. Jeffcoat struck out Young but Rich Dauer doubled off the left-field fence to score Sheets for a 5-0 lead.

Dempsey, still hitting very well, put the finishing touches on the inning with a two-run homer over the left center-field fence. It was the first time the Orioles have hit three homers in one inning since they did it in May 1979 against the Oakland A's.

"I'm not trying to hit home runs," said Dempsey, who has four. "I was just trying to hit the ball as hard as I can. I think I hit a change-up. I wasn't sure I got all of it, but I guess I did. It kind of floated out. I'm on a good roll now."