Steve Howe tried to pitch his way out of the minor leagues Wednesday night and did. He'd hoped to join the San Francisco Giants or Toronto Blue Jays but, instead, was expelled from the minor leagues for defying Commissioner Peter Ueberroth.

Howe, the NL's rookie of the year in 1980, had been scheduled to pitch Wednesday for the San Jose Bees of the Class A California League. Then Ueberroth's office told the Bees to hold him out games until a "discrepancy" in the results of a drug test could be straightened out.

But when Howe and owner Harry Steve of the Bees learned General Manager Al Rosen of the San Francisco Giants and Vice President Pat Gillick of the Toronto Blue Jays had come to see Howe pitch, they gambled. Howe pitched the first five innings of an 11-inning, 6-5 victory over the Fresno Giants.

President John Johnson of the minor league system was quick with a statement: "I have today advised Steve Howe of the San Jose club that he's ineligible to play for San Jose or any other club in the minors effective immediately. I took this action based upon certain information which I have discussed with Mr. Howe regarding his drug rehabilitation effort.

Ueberroth's statement came next: "The commissioner's office is aware of John Johnson's action with regard to Steve Howe as well as information on which he based his decision. We support his action. . . . "

The Bees said yesterday that a May 1 drug test was the problem. "They told us some findings were positive in the test," a spokesman said. The Giants and Blue Jays had seemed interested in Howe, who was 2-1 with a 1.97 ERA. . .

Bruce Schoenfeld, 24, a sportswriter for the Cincinnati Post, swore a private criminal complaint against pitcher John Denny (1-4, 5.31 ERA) of the Reds, claiming Denny assaulted him before Wednesday's game in Philadelphia.

The complaint charged simple assault, terroristic threats and harassment, all misdemeanors. Specifically, Denny banged Schoenfeld's head against a wall, Schoenfeld claims.

Not so, said Denny, 33, who doesn't face arrest. A hearing will be held before a trial commissioner, who will try to resolve the dispute. If Schoenfeld and Denny can't settle things then, Denny will have to go to Municipal Court. OBITUARY

Joe Sparma, a former quarterback at Ohio State and a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, died in a Columbus, Ohio, hospital. He was 44 and had lived in suburban Worthington. He had had heart surgery after a heart attack May 5. GOLF

Gene Sauers, 23, chipped in three times during a hard-earned, 4-under-par 66 that gave him a one-stroke lead after the first round of the $600,000 Colonial National Invitation Tournament at Fort Worth. He never had even seen the Colonial Country Club course before.

"I just followed my caddy around," he said.

"The boy is a good listener," said caddy Sampson Marshall.

"I'm putting super right now," Sauers said. "I felt like I could make everything I looked at."

He one-putted nine times, had no putts on three other holes and used only 21 strokes on the greens, the last a 30-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole.

But he had the ball in some strange places. He hit only nine greens in regulation, scattered fans several times, was out among the oaks, in the sand, and once under a spectator's chair.

Even the leader board had his name wrong: "Savers."

Tom Watson was three under par for the day until he hit into the water on the ninth and scored a triple-bogey 7. He made double bogey on the next hole and struggled home in 75. Curtis Strange had a quadruple-bogey 7 on the 13th and also shot 75. Fuzzy Zoeller shot 74. TENNIS

Ivan Lendl beat Paolo Cane, 6-2, 6-4, to reach the quarterfinals of the Italian Open. Defending champion Yannick Noah, seeded No. 4, also won on the clay courts of the Foro Italico, defeating Kent Carlsson, 6-4, 6-2; No. 3 seed Boris Becker of West Germany beat Leonardo Lavalle, 6-4, 6-3; and second-seeded Mats Wilander beat qualifier Andrei Chesnokov, 6-4, 6-3. . .

In Berlin, second-seeded Steffi Graf, 16, beat Sabrina Goles, 6-1, 6-0, to reach the quarterfinals of the $150,000 West German Open women's championship. Graf, the No. 2 seed, strained a stomach muscle but needed only 47 minutes to win. Next she'll play Andrea Temesvari, who beat Helen Kelesi, 1-6, 6-1, 6-3. Bettina Bunge upset Helena Sukova, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2. COLLEGES

American's basketball recruits include Andy Bonfalle, 6-7, 215, from Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, where he averaged 23 points and 11 rebounds and was Florida junior college player of the year; Mike Sumner, 6-5, 190, an all-Met at Crossland High; Guy Owens, 6-8, of Forestville High; Mark Levy, 6-8, 225, of Cherry Hill, N.J.; and Willie Davis, 6-6, 220, an all-state at Crosby High in Waterbury, Conn. . . .

Jay Burson, a guard on Ohio State's basketball team, was playing a pickup game when he fell and broke his right collarbone. He's in fair condition in the intensive care unit at University Hospital in Columbus. During his days at John Glenn High in New Concord, he scored more points than any other high schooler who ever played basketball in Ohio. MOTORCYCLING

World champion Freddie Spencer pulled out of the 500-cc race of the Grand Prix of Italy in Monza because of a sore wrist. TRACK AND FIELD

Daley Thompson set the world decathlon record at the 1984 Olympics, the International Amateur Athletic Federation decided in London. The IAAF said an electric phototimer revealed he had run 1 one-thousandth of a second faster in the 110-meter high hurdles than had first been recorded. That gave him 8,798 points instead of 8,797 . . .

The Soviet Union will send seven athletes to the outdoor Bruce Jenner Bud Light Classic May 31 at San Jose City College. They include: Igor Paklin, world record holder in the men's high jump at 7-10 3/4; Tatyana Kazankina, world record holder in the women's 2,000-and 3,000-meter races; and Sergey Litvinov, former world record-holder in the hammer throw. LOCALLY

The ninth annual Bonne Bell 10K for women will start at 8 a.m. Sunday at West Potomac Park's polo field. Trophies and prizes will be awarded to the winners in seven age groups, the first three mother-daughter teams, and the top club runners. Applications, plus a $10 fee, will be accepted at the Rosslyn West Park Hotel until 1 p.m. Saturday . . .

Five Washington Redskins and two Washington Capitals will be among the local celebrities at the third annual "Stars At Your Service Dinner" at Mel Krupin's restaurant Sunday. Jeff Bostic, Joe Jacoby, Rick Walker, Don Warren and Russ Grimm of the Redskins, Dave Christian and Craig Laughlin of the Capitals and others will be waiters, waitresses and bartenders for 200 March of Dimes guests. Larry King will be master of ceremonies.