Supposedly, the biggest barrier between the New York Yankees and a pennant race is pitching. But that's been difficult to prove the last two nights in Memorial Stadium.

Joe Cowley teamed with Dave Righetti and Brian Fisher to pitch a four-hitter tonight, and the Yankees got three hits and three stolen bases from the streaking Rickey Henderson in beating the Baltimore Orioles, 6-4, before 33,794.

The Orioles, shut out Monday night by Ron Guidry, have only nine hits in the first two games of the three-game series. They did manage two home runs tonight -- a two-run pinch-hit drive by John Shelby and one with the bases empty in the eighth by Eddie Murray, his 10th of the season. It was the first time Righetti had given up two homers in a relief appearance.

But the Yankees, who knocked out Storm Davis (4-3) with four runs in the first six innings, held on.

Cowley (5-3) allowed just two hits in five innings, and Fisher got the final three outs to gain his second save.

The Orioles were less than impressed with some of the opposition offense. There were a fifth-inning dribbler by Henderson that rolled through the infield only because the hit-and-run was on, and an end-of-the-bat fielder's-choice grounder by Ron Hassey that gave the Yankees a two-run lead in the seventh.

Davis, who didn't give up many solid hits, shook his head in obvious frustration in the locker room.

"I was sharp tonight," he said. "I've been sharp the last eight times out. I've kept the team in the game and that's all I can ask of myself. When I can control where the ball goes when it comes off the bat I'll be in a higher league."

Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver seemed undaunted.

"This was a fantastic ball game," he said. "The Yankees have been cold, and they're gonna take it out on somebody. We cut it from 10 (New York runs on Monday) to five (he meant six) tonight. If we can cut 'em in half tomorrow, we've got a good chance."

Baltimore's chances of winning decreased tonight when the Yankees jumped to a 3-0 lead with Henderson figuring in three of the first four New York runs.

Henderson, who has taken the American League batting lead at .340, started the game with a double and scored on Ken Griffey's single.

With two out in the third, Henderson beat out a deep grounder to short, stole second and third bases, but didn't score.

A run-scoring single by Mike Pagliarulo and Henderson's hit-and-run single made it 3-0 in the fourth. It was the 10th straight time Henderson had reached base, eight of those on hits. The major league record for consecutive times reaching base is 16, by Ted Williams in 1957.

In addition, it meant the Nos. 1 and 2 hitters in the Yankee lineup had reached base 17 straight times in two games.

"Have I ever been this hot before? No, not in terms of reaching base 10 times in a row," said Henderson, whose career on-base percentage against the Orioles rose to .463. "I see the ball here in Baltimore real well; they have great lights. And their pitchers are always around the plate . . . "

Davis acknowledged Henderson was right. "You've got to keep throwing the ball over the plate to Rickey because if you walk him it's a double anyway," he said. "So you might as well make him earn his way on."

The Orioles didn't get a hit until two out in the fifth. Then Cowley walked Rich Dauer -- a .183 hitter -- and allowed an RBI single to Lee Lacy, cutting the lead to 3-1.

The Yankees made it 4-1 in the sixth when Griffey singled in a run. A strange thing happened that inning. Henderson got on base again, but it was via a fielder's choice, technically ending his streak.

"He is one of the most fantastic people at home plate," Weaver said of Henderson, whose three stolen bases raised his season total to 25 in 26 attempts (Bob Boone of California is the only catcher to throw him out).

"He is in command of that strike zone," Weaver said. "He fools the umpire, or else outsmarts them. He's in that crouch of his, which is his regular batting stance, and he's up on low pitches, down on high pitches. He's in total command."

The Orioles got within 4-3 in the sixth when Shelby, pinch hitting for Larry Sheets, hit a two-run homer. It was Shelby's second home run in two at bats since being recalled from Triple-A Rochester.

"I wasn't playing any hunches," Weaver said. "The information was right in front of me: Shelby was three for 10 (against Righetti) and Mike Young was one for seven."

But the Orioles could only score once more, on Murray's homer, and the Yankees got a run in the seventh and one in the ninth.