If the Baltimore Orioles came into the second half of this season looking for good omens, they found several tonight.

For starters, they reached Kansas City starter Bret Saberhagen -- who had allowed only seven home runs all season -- for three homers en route to an 8-3 victory over the Royals before 25,579 in Memorial Stadium.

More important, in light of the pitching staff's first-half troubles, were the three innings of shutout relief pitched by Sammy Stewart, who earned his seventh save after coming on for winner Scott McGregor.

Lee Lacy extended his hitting streak to 18 games with three singles that boosted his average to .331, and Mike Young, Cal Ripken and Wayne Gross hit the homers.

Baltimore's defense, which came into the game ranked 10th out of 14 teams in the American League, came up with three plays that saved at least three runs.

If all that wasn't enough, the Orioles picked up a game on all three teams in front of them in the East. Toronto, New York and Detroit all lost.

"This is the best way we could possibly start off the second half," Stewart said.

Since Baltimore has been hitting all season, the Orioles had to be happiest with tonight's pitching and defense.

McGregor (8-7) wasn't especially impressive. But he kept the Orioles close by getting out of two king-sized jams, in the third and fifth innings, with only one run scoring. After he gave up a two-run homer to Hal McRae in the sixth, Stewart came on and blew away the Royals in the final three innings, primarily with fast balls.

After Eddie Murray's two-run single in the first gave Baltimore a 2-0 lead, two good defensive plays helped McGregor get out of the third, still leading, 2-1.

With two out, Willie Wilson doubled and McGregor got himself into more trouble by walking Lonnie Smith, saving an at bat for George Brett, the league's leading hitter with a .357 average.

Brett singled up the middle, but second baseman Alan Wiggins made a great diving play to keep the ball from going into the outfield. He not only saved one run but kept Smith from going to third.

Frank White's single scored one run, but Smith was thrown out at the plate (trying to score from second) on Fred Lynn's throw from center. Replays showed Smith was safe, but that's what happens when things are going a team's way.

Young's ninth homer of the season extended his hitting streak to a career-high nine games and put the Orioles ahead, 3-1, in the fourth. But they weren't out of trouble.

Another walk to Smith, with one out in the fifth, loaded the bases and brought Brett to the plate in the kind of situation Baltimore's pitchers haven't been solving this season.

Brett drove a low, inside pitch down the first base line. But Murray snagged it and started an inning-ending double play. "As soon as I made contact, I thought it was 4-3," Brett said. "But after one step, I knew it was still 3-1. Murray made it look easy."

Ripken's homer in the fifth made it 4-1 against Saberhagen (10-5), who had won eight of his last nine games.

"They got three solo homers, but they have a good lineup and these things are going to happen," Kansas City Manager Dick Howser said of Saberhagen, who just turned 21. "Sometime along the line, you have to get hit."

McRae's homer -- after going zero for 15 against the Orioles this season -- followed White's bunt single and cut Baltimore's lead to 4-3. But Gross' ninth homer, in the sixth, gave Stewart an insurance run he probably didn't need.

McGregor had no complaints about being taken out. "The last time out I gave up three runs in the seventh inning," he said. "With a one-run lead after six (tonight) I think he (Manager Earl Weaver) made the right move. I certainly don't want to be satisfied with pitching six innings, but we need to win and everything worked out fine."

Stewart even struck out Brett to lead off the eighth. "I was really surprised to do that," Stewart said. "I haven't done that in a while. He's the best hitter in the league right now and after I saw him do down, it gave me a little confidence.

"I don't think our ERA (4.38) tells the truth. But we haven't had the consistency we've wanted. I think it was important tonight for us not to have to push in two or three relievers. Scotty got us to the seventh inning, which is what we needed."

One spectator at Memorial Stadium tonight avoided disaster by mere inches in the first inning. William Joyner, 34, of Baltimore, leaned over the rail in the upper deck to catch a foul ball and fell out of the stands.

Somehow, he managed to hold on to the rail with both hands. He dangled from the stadium's top balcony until several fans sitting nearby could pull him up to safety.

The only injury Joyner incurred was a cut upper lip that required three stitches at a Baltimore hospital.