Detroit's climb back toward the top of the American League East continued tonight at the expense of the Baltimore Orioles.

The Tigers hit three home runs off Scott McGregor in the first four innings, then scored two runs in the ninth off Sammy Stewart to complete a 7-1 victory over the Orioles before 27,109 in Memorial Stadium and a network television audience.

The loss was a step backward for the Orioles, who thought they were turned around after winning two of three in Boston over the weekend.

"Scotty had pitched well in six out of his last eight games, but we still can't seem to get all four starters going well at one time and win four or five in a row," Orioles Manager Earl Weaver said. "Or get over a bad (pitching) start with hitting."

Baltimore didn't get the hitting to compensate for McGregor tonight and failed to pick up ground on first-place Toronto, remaining 7 1/2 games back. The Tigers, however, moved within 2 1/2 games, which for them is just fine with 90 games remaining.

"This thing is tied as far as I'm concerned," Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson said. "They've only got a one-game lead in the loss column. We're not gonna lose two of the three extra games. They don't have no lead. They don't have nothing, as far as I'm concerned."

Baltimore's run came in the eighth, when Lee Lacy singled off Willie Hernandez, who had come on in relief of starter Randy O'Neal. But Hernandez defused that rally, then struck out two in the ninth.

Detroit scored three runs in the second inning, two on Darrell Evans' 15th homer. The Tigers made it 4-0 in the third on Gibson's mammoth line drive, which was still on the rise when it crashed into the upper deck in right field, just inside the foul pole.

Larry Herndon's homer in the fourth made it 5-0 and finished the night for McGregor (6-7). "A couple of those pitches just weren't Scott McGregor pitches," Weaver said.

Stewart, in his longest outing of the year, threw better than he has in some time. But he walked four unintentionally and gave up a two-run single in the ninth to Tom Brookens.

The Orioles' best chance to get back in the game might have been stopped because of an umpire's call in the eighth. After Floyd Rayford doubled and pinch hitter Mike Young singled to start the inning, Lacy drove in one run. Then Cal Ripken hit what appeared to be a double down the line in left field. But third base umpire Drew Coble called it foul.

"I might look at that replay tomorrow," Weaver said, "because several people told me it hit the plank (under the foul line) and bounced away." The ball wouldn't have angled like that if the ball had bounced just on the dirt, he maintained.

"You don't know what would happen after that, of course, but it at least brings us back in the game," he added.

But Ripken struck out and Eddie Murray grounded out to end the inning with two runners left on base.

O'Neal, 24, improved to 4-1. His most impressive pitching might have been getting Murray to ground into an inning-ending double play in the first.

"It's the same identical game he's pitched five other times," Anderson said of O'Neal, whose earned run average dropped to 2.01. If O'Neal continues to pitch anywhere near this well, the Tigers' staff seems to be as formidable as last year when they won the world championship.

Then, the Tigers got off to a 35-5 start. But as Anderson said tonight, "This is real. Last year was a fantasy.

"I said from the beginning of the year that if we go 20-20 at the start, we'd win this thing. Toronto is only one game up in the loss column. I'd like to see it stay this way for a while, to tell you the truth. Let 'em go on leading this way until September.

"The only time I was worried was back on that Friday in Toronto (June 7) when we fell 8 1/2 back with two more games in Toronto that weekend. If we lose those two, we're gone. It would take three months to make up that deficit.

"We were in the desert that day, in the Sahara. But we won two and they let us back into Palm Springs. Now we're in a condominium in Palm Springs, just relaxing. And waiting."

After the game, the Orioles announced they would call up 22-year-old catcher Al Pardo from Class AAA Rochester and place Joe Nolan on the 21-day disabled list.

Nolan, because of ailing knees -- four operations in the past nine years -- has been unable to catch, anyway. Pardo, who will report in time for Tuesday night's game, will give the Orioles some power (eight home runs, 11 doubles at Rochester) and give Weaver more flexibility in the late innings . . . Tonight's crowd pushed the Orioles' season attendance over the 1 million mark, earliest in team history.