Don Sutton, after studying the pitch sequence of Baltimore's Mike Boddicker 10 days ago in Oakland, came here tonight and used those rediscovered principles to beat the Orioles and Boddicker, 3-1, before 32,646.

Memorial Stadium was as quiet as it has been all season after the loss to the A's dropped the Orioles five games out of first place in the American League East for the first time this season.

Sutton, 40, kept the Orioles off balance with slow stuff and yielded only four hits over seven innings. That made it even more difficult for the Orioles to hit Jay Howell, who blew away Baltimore in the eighth and ninth innings to pick up his 11th save.

"It's like going from a slingshot to a bazooka," Sutton said of the contrast between his trickery and Howell's dare.

The only thing that stood between Sutton and excellence tonight was Eddie Murray's seventh home run, a line drive that didn't get more than knee-high until it cleared the fence in right to give Baltimore a 1-0 lead in the fourth.

But Oakland tied it in the seventh when Mike Davis hit a home run to right off Boddicker (6-4) that barely cleared the wall. The A's went ahead for good in the eighth when Dave Collins hit a bloop double that Lee Lacy apparently lost in the lights in right field. A sacrifice bunt by Carney Lansford and a sacrifice fly by Dave Kingman scored the go-ahead run.

Oakland got an unearned run in the ninth off reliever Tippy Martinez. Mike Heath reached base on Fritz Connally's infield error, went to third on Donnie Hill's single and scored when Alfredo Griffin executed a squeeze bunt play to near perfection.

"Every time you look up on the scoreboard, they're talking about how Baltimore leads the league in home runs," A's Manager Jackie Moore said. "You sure feel a lot safer with a two- or three-run lead if you can get it."

The way Howell was throwing, a one-run lead would have stood up for several innings. Of the seven hitters he faced, only one reached base (Jim Dwyer, on a single) and two struck out, including Fred Lynn on three pitches in the ninth.

"When you've got the flame, it's quite a contrast," Baltimore Manager Joe Altobelli said. "He's got such good control of himself out there."

Moore added, "That was Jay's best pitching of the season and I know he feels the same way."

Most of the talk centered around Sutton, as well it should after he won for the 284th time in his 20-year major league career. "He performs surgery," Dwyer said. "Even when he gets behind in the count, he still can nip the corners. You don't get a ball to hit the whole game. I got one really good pitch to hit when he hung a curve, and I missed it."

Sutton (4-5) struggled through his first six starts. But as he explained later, charting Boddicker's pitches in Oakland helped immensely. He has had three very good starts since.

"I found out that I pitch a lot like Boddicker does -- change speeds, use the fast ball as a surprise spot," Sutton said. "I'd been going too much with hard fast ball, hard slider, hard fast ball . . . well, it's not hard any more, but it's the best I've got.

"I was staying in one velocity too long. I watched him pitch, and not two pitches in a row were the same speed. Watching Boddicker that night (May 21) set me on the right track."

The compliment never reached Boddicker, who for the first time declined to talk afterward about a game. It was his third straight loss, two of them against Oakland, including the 3-2 defeat 10 days ago in which Boddicker walked in the winning run.

"You're not going to find too many in the league better than him," Moore said. "To beat him once is to be fortunate."

Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller said Boddicker made "a couple of mistakes, but he really pitched about as well as you can . . . two good games against this team and hasn't won a game."

That's largely because the Orioles couldn't hit Sutton. Murray, whose batting average is up to .281, singled in the first. But Baltimore didn't get another hit until Rick Dempsey's single led off the third.

Murray's home run came in the fourth -- "a pretty damn good pitch," Sutton said, "but that guy hits good pitches, great pitches, ugly pitches." Sutton retired 11 straight before Connally (who had an early-game scare when Kingman fell on his arm) blooped a single with two out in the seventh.

Moore was asked if he was worried about Sutton's first half-dozen starts. "I think I went on record earlier as saying I couldn't afford to be worried about Don Sutton, that I had more to worry about," he answered. "He's been around too long and been too successful for me to worry about him. His record, as they say, speaks for itself. I knew he was capable of putting things back together.

"And now, he's starting to prove me right."