Light snow flurries fell throughout the day, and by late afternoon, temperatures had dipped into the low 30s, with a 12-degree wind chill whipping off Lake Erie.

So in this bizarre, miserable setting, one so bad that coffee and hot cocoa were being given away at the concession stands, the Baltimore Orioles played one of their best games. They defeated the Cleveland Indians, 5-2, before an announced crowd of 3,004 at Cleveland Stadium.

Ken Dixon (2-0) and Don Aase combined on a seven-hitter, and shortstop Cal Ripken and designated hitter Larry Sheets hit home runs as the Orioles beat knuckleballer Phil Niekro (1-2), who allowed only seven hits and who seemed as unaffected by the cold as anyone. Niekro worked 8 2/3 innings.

The actual crowd count in this creaky 74,000-seat stadium was probably closer to 600, including players, and from the beginning, the Orioles did not wish to be among them.

Around 3 p.m., when Orioles Manager Earl Weaver figured out the game wouldn't be called, he lost his cool.

"Do I think we should have played?" he asked after the game. "No. Am I glad we played? Yes. I didn't expect two home runs on a night like this. I guess they proved it can be done, but that doesn't mean it should be done."

Before the game, Weaver telephoned Indians President Peter Bavasi, and told him the idea of playing in such weather was silly.

Bavasi told reporters the weather was "cold, but playable. We're on a roll, and we wanted to play. I talked to Pat [Corrales, manager] and to Phil [Seghi, general manager], and they agreed."

Weaver then phoned Orioles General Manager Hank Peters, who phoned the American League office to complain, then phoned Bavasi himself.

After the game, Bavasi phoned Weaver to ask, "Aren't you glad we played?" Weaver replied, yes, kind of.

He was certainly glad for what happened as the Orioles pushed their record to 8-6 and stayed 1 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees in the American League East.

He was also glad for what happened during the game, the best of it coming from Sheets and Dixon.

Sheets hit so poorly in spring training he almost bought a ticket to Rochester, and would have gone if third baseman Floyd Rayford hadn't gone on the disabled list.

Tonight, he was making only his second start in 14 games, and made it pay off by looping a two-run home run just inside the right field foul line in the sixth inning, the hit that opened up a 4-1 lead.

"I felt like it was the first home run of my career," Sheets said. "That's how much it meant. It's been a strange season for me, and when you get a chance to play, you have to make the most of it."

How did he survive the cold?

"It was great for me," he said. " As DH , I sat in here and watched television until time to go hit. No use freezing if you don't have to."

Meanwhile, Dixon (0.84 ERA) pitched well a third straight time, keeping the Indians off balance with a curveball-fastball combination that was excellent. He allowed seven hits in 8 1/3 innings, striking out seven and walking only one.

Weaver took him out after Brook Jacoby's single, and Don Aase got two outs for his fourth save.

"Dixon had good stuff -- as usual," Weaver said. "He's had good stuff every time out."

Dixon said, "The cold didn't affect my breaking ball, and I was using it with the fastball pretty well. They were setting up each other, and the hitters didn't seem to know what was coming."

The game began with Weaver imitating a man on ice skates as he took the lineup card to home plate. Several players, including center fielder Fred Lynn, played with white socks wrapped around their heads, and some of their pain was relieved by a blowing heater placed at the end of their dugout.

Just before the Orioles took the field, Weaver called a team meeting to say: These guys think they have an advantage in the cold weather. Go out and show them they don't.

And a night after they were awful, the Orioles were very good, getting a 1-0 lead in the second inning and making it 2-0 in the third. The second started with Eddie Murray's walk and Lynn's single to center. Jim Dwyer forced Lynn, and Sheets lofted a high fly down the left field line.

Left fielder Mel Hall, playing Sheets as a pull hitter, had a long run to get to the ball, but he made it. Then he dropped it. Lynn scored on the error, but Rayford grounded out and Rick Dempsey popped out to get Niekro out of the inning.

Ripken's second home run of the season made it 2-0 in the third, and when Lynn was safe on Julio Franco's error in the sixth, Sheets followed with his first homer.

In the third, a double by Hall and single by Franco closed the Orioles' lead to 2-1.

Sheets' homer made it 4-1 in the sixth, and Hall's homer made it 4-2 in the seventh. The Orioles got their fifth run in the ninth when Dempsey and Juan Bonilla singled Lee Lacy hit a sacrifice fly to center.

"Hey, it just wasn't cold enough last night when the Indians shut the Orioles out ," Murray said. "That's the difference."

Reliever Tippy Martinez returned to Baltimore today for more tests on an inner-ear problem, and if he has to go on the disabled list, the club will recall Nate Snell from Rochester . . . A second-day look at Mike Flanagan's nine-hit, six-earned-run performance Monday reveals this: Eight of the nine hits he allowed were on ground balls. Flanagan lasted only 5 1/3 innings, but said, "It was the best stuff I'd had in five years. Incredible stuff." . . . After a day of checking, the Orioles say they never had a player commit four errors in a game before third baseman Floyd Rayford did it Monday.