The longest nine-inning game in American League history began today in a warm, muggy Bronx haze and ended almost five hours later, in the chill of a cloudless evening.

By the time it ended, all but a few of the 52,021 Bat Day fans had departed Yankee Stadium, and the Baltimore Orioles had waded through a game that included 36 hits, 32 players and a 40-minute rain delay to beat the New York Yankees, 18-9.

The game lasted a tidy 4 hours 16 minutes and broke the previous record of 4 hours 11 minutes by the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago White Sox on July 10, 1983.

Or as Orioles Manager Earl Weaver said: "I told my players if they ever miss curfew again, they're going to have to watch a tape of this damn game. I've been around a long time. Hell, I was around a long time today."

Or as reliever Brad Havens, who faced four Yankees and walked three of them, said: "I did my part."

In the end, when there finally was one, the Orioles could celebrate their first Yankee Stadium sweep since Aug. 8-10, 1980, and their 21st victory in 27 games. Not only that, at 33-20, they are only three games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East.

The Orioles battered five pitchers for 18 runs and 22 hits, getting the first three-homer, six-RBI game of Lee Lacy's career and a monster shot from designated hitter Larry Sheets that landed in the black center field bleachers, an area that has been reached only a few times.

They hit five of the 22 off starter Ed Whitson and seven off the Yankees' fifth pitcher. That fifth pitcher was a familiar one, Tommy John, who started Saturday's game and pitched four shaky innings.

In between, Yankees Manager Lou Piniella sent out Bob Shirley (3 2/3 innings), Doug Drabek (1 2/3 innings) and Al Holland (five pitches).

Piniella was in good shape compared to Weaver, who began this most important weekend of the season with only eight pitchers because Mike Flanagan is on the disabled list and Nate Snell stayed in Baltimore with a bruised foot.

"We were fine until the sixth inning of the third game, weren't we?" Weaver mused.

In the sixth inning, he called in Rich Bordi to relieve starter Ken Dixon (6-3). No dice. Bordi pitched to three hitters and got one out.

He called for Havens. No dice. Havens pitched to four and got one out, and suddenly what had been a 7-1 laugher was a 7-6 headache.

"My curveball was just spinning away from me," Havens said. "I knew what I was doing wrong, but I couldn't correct it. I'll say this. I'm sure I'm leading the team in getting chewed out by Earl. This is three times he has cursed my mother."

When Weaver walked to the mound -- actually he stalked out -- he had one rested reliever, Tippy Martinez, who had pitched a total of one inning since he came off the disabled list May 28.

He had pitched a total of four innings all season, but when Weaver most needed 3 1/3 innings, he got 3 1/3 innings -- and Martinez's first save.

"Was I tired?" Martinez asked. "No. I was more than that. This was like a spring training game for me, and having the extra runs blessed me."

The Orioles scored at least one run in every inning except the second and fifth, and would never have guessed they'd need a seven-run seventh the way the day began.

It began with them chasing Whitson after only seven hitters. Lacy started the scoring with the first of his home runs, an opposite field poke inside the right field foul pole for a 1-0 lead.

Fred Lynn and Eddie Murray followed with singles and, after Cal Ripken flied to left, Sheets and Tom O'Malley singled for a 3-0 lead.

That's when Piniella went for left-handed Shirley, who was his most effective pitcher of the game, going 3 2/3 innings and allowing the Orioles only three runs.

The Orioles stretched their lead to 4-0 in the third on O'Malley's second RBI single and 6-1 in the fourth when John Shelby doubled and Lacy homered to straight-away left.

Lacy connected again with no one on in the sixth to provide a 7-1 lead, and he was in the middle of the seven-run seventh, dumping a two-run, broken-bat single to center.

"Come on, I'm a line-drive hitter," he said. "Anytime you hit three home runs, you've got to feel great. The power is nice, and it's the thing I think kept me out of the big leagues so many years. But it's just an occasional thing. I'm a line-drive hitter who sprays the ball around."

Trailing by 7-1, the Yankees made it more than interesting in the sixth when Dan Pasqua led off with a single and Mike Pagliarulo hit his 14th homer.

No sweat. Except that when Dixon walked Ron Hassey, Weaver called on his bullpen, the same one that was 7-0 with 11 saves and a 1.66 ERA in this 20-6 run.

Bordi got Willie Randolph on a fielder's choice grounder, then allowed Mike Fischlin to single. Rickey Henderson doubled to center to score Randolph, and Weaver went for Havens, who appeared to have hurdled his biggest challenge by getting Don Mattingly on a pop to center.

He then walked Dave Winfield to load the bases, walked Gary Roenicke to score a run and walked Pasqua to score another. Suddenly, Weaver was out of relievers.

"I knew he'd be patient with me," Martinez said. "He didn't have anyone else."

He didn't need anyone else. Martinez struck out Pagliarulo on three curveballs and the Orioles sent 11 men to the plate and scored seven times in the seventh.

They began the inning against Drabek by loading the bases on a walk to Sheets, a single by O'Malley and a walk to Jim Dwyer.

Mike Young singled to right for one run, Shelby doubled to center for two more and Lacy singled for two more.

That's when Piniella went for Holland, who made five pitches to Lynn before pulling a hamstring. John came on and walked Lynn. Eddie Murray was safe on Mattingly's error and Sheets' groundout scored the seventh run.

"A record, huh?" Weaver asked. "Does it go to the Hall of Fame or the Hall of Shame? The thing is, how would you like to sit through something like this and go home a loser?"

As Piniella did.

"The only good thing about this game is that it only came out as one loss," he said.