One game into the second half of the season, it's probably too early to talk about crucial games and comebacks that affect the rest of the season. But the Orioles seemed to be as excited as they've been all season with a three-run homer with two out in the ninth by Fred Lynn tonight that boosted Baltimore to a 7-6 victory over Chicago at Memorial Stadium.

It was Lynn's third ninth-inning, game-winning homer this season -- all at home. But as he said afterward, "This was a big one, here. Obviously, we were behind when I hit the other two. But the team wasn't as down (in spirit) as it was tonight. It's a pretty significant win, actually. We just can't afford to lose any more ground than we have already."

Almost everyone not in an Orioles uniform had to figure the game was over. The White Sox led, 6-3, with two out and nobody on base against Bob James, second in the league with 17 saves.

The Orioles were about to lose their fifth home game in the last seven and drop nine games behind Toronto in the American League East. Thousands of fans already were in the parking lot. It was over.

But James reinjured his right knee on his second pitch to Lee Lacy, a throw that flew behind Lacy and high over his head. "I laughed because I knew he didn't try to do it intentionally," said Lacy. "But when I saw he was hurt, I was just hoping it wasn't his arm because he's becoming one of the premier relievers in this league."

James was forced to leave, and the White Sox went with Mike Stanton, their fifth pitcher of the game. He gave up Lacy's fourth single of the game, to right field. Stanton then walked Cal Ripken on four pitches, and Eddie Murray singled home a run to bring the Orioles to 6-4.

Lynn couldn't help but think about a home run. "When you're hitting two-damn-sixty, you gotta do something or you sit on the pines," he said. "Yeah, I think about it."

Stanton went two balls and one strike on Lynn, who hit a fast ball away. The ball carried well, and Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver recalled, "A lot of the guys were up screaming, 'Get outta here,' and others were screaming, 'It's gone.' But I'm one of the guys screaming, 'Get outta here,' because if it ain't gone, you really look stupid."

It got out, just barely over the wall in left field, and the Orioles ran out to greet Lynn as if they had won the seventh game of the World Series.

Lynn circled the bases triumphantly, with hands raised, and most of those remaining from the original crowd of 23,958 stood and refused to leave until he answered two curtain calls.

The homer made a winner of Sammy Stewart (3-4), who took over for Scott McGregor and pitched the final 2 2/3 innings, allowing one hit. Stewart arrived at the park the object of a trade report that said the Orioles would send him and third baseman Wayne Gross to the Texas Rangers for third baseman Buddy Bell, whom Baltimore has been trying to get off and on since 1982.

Bell, 33, is a .286 lifetime hitter who has won six consecutive Gold Glove awards. This season, he has four home runs and 30 RBI, and has committed 16 errors.

Edward Bennett Williams, owner of the Orioles, said before the game, "(Texas) made a lot of calls today to say they were interested in trading Buddy Bell. We were interested in 1982 . . . I've had a lot of dealings with Eddie Chiles," the Texas owner.

After the game, Stewart said, "This is the best thing that's happened to me in three months. I don't like to say it's a good omen when somebody gets hurt, but when James got hurt it was beneficial to us."

Just winning was beneficial to the Orioles, who were extremely loud and festive in the locker room, where Lacy traded insults with whomever teased him about not hitting for power. Lacy, his average up to .325, automatically wins any arguments until he cools off.

Lynn, conducting yet another postgame interview, surveyed the scene and smiled.

"This is the most gratifying," he said of his home run. "Anytime you've left as many runners on base as I have, you're usually a goat. You don't often get a second chance."