When the Baltimore Orioles made Tom O'Malley their third baseman three weeks ago, it was not with a sense of history.

He was not Brooks Robinson, they said. He might not even be Todd Cruz. What they hoped was that he'd be better than the five players who'd split the position in April and May, the four who divided up nine RBI and 18 errors.

Tonight, on an evening when the Orioles were once again baffled by a rookie pitcher named Eric Steven King, O'Malley delivered again, getting a single in the 10th inning for a 2-1 victory over Detroit before 22,769 at Tiger Stadium.

O'Malley's hit was only the Orioles' fourth of the night, and scored Lee Lacy, who had gotten their third moments earlier.

Those four were enough because Scott McGregor and Don Aase (3-3) combined for a 10-inning three-hitter, and they were important ones for the Orioles, who won for the third time in four games and crept within 5 1/2 games of Boston in the American League East.

"He's done everything we hoped, and more," Orioles Manager Earl Weaver said of O'Malley. "If you had seen him play in spring training, you wouldn't think he even belonged in the big leagues, but remember this winter we thought he'd make the team."

O'Malley's hit rescued the Orioles when it appeared King would beat them for the second time in a week (18 innings, two earned runs). He didn't allow a hit until Lacy (two for five) led off the sixth with a single. King has struck out 15 Orioles in 18 innings.

It also kept them from wasting McGregor's best performance in almost two months, as he limited the Tigers to three hits and a run in 8 2/3 innings.

McGregor left the game after walking Lance Parrish with two outs in the ninth, and Aase (3-3) faced four batters to get the victory.

Aase, with 19 saves and three victories, has pitched in 58 percent of the Orioles' 38 victories. He gave the bows to others tonight.

"What can I say?" he asked. "The credit should go to Scotty. I faced three guys, and he faced, what, 30? He pitched one hell of a game, and he deserved the win."

No Oriole would have gotten it if Lacy and O'Malley hadn't come through. Tigers Manager Sparky Anderson went for reliever Bill Campbell to open the 10th, and he opened it in style, striking out Al Pardo and Mike Young.

But Lacy doubled and Campbell got behind O'Malley, 3-1. The fifth pitch was called a strike, and O'Malley seemed upset by it.

"I thought it was outside," he said later. "In retrospect, I'm glad it was."

He fouled one back, then lined the next one -- also outside -- into left field for his first game-winning RBI.

"That pitch was about the same place the other one was, so I couldn't let it go," he said. "I'm just finding the holes right now. Fortunately, things are going well, but I know that in this game they can go bad in a hurry."

His is a remarkable story because he signed with the San Francisco Giants in 1979 and was in the big leagues at 21. In 1984, he began a baseball odyssey, the Giants trading him to the White Sox and the White Sox releasing him a year later. He was signed by the Detroit organization, but was traded to the Orioles for catcher Luis Rosado May 23, 1985. (The Tigers have released Rosado.)

"Maybe he was in the big leagues before his time," Weaver said. "Who knows about something like that?"

Regardless, he has 11 RBI in 16 games and is hitting .302.

Neither team had a hit tonight until Detroit's Larry Herndon singled in the fifth inning. Engle moved Herndon to second with a groundout to O'Malley, and Herndon scored when Dave Collins doubled to left.

The Orioles came right back to tie it, 1-1, in the sixth and left runners on second and third. Lacy's single broke up King's no-hitter and, after O'Malley flied out, Lacy went to second on Eddie Murray's groundout.

King walked Cal Ripken, and Jim Dwyer lined a single to center to score the run.

That was it. The Orioles didn't have another runner as far as second until Lacy's double, and the Tigers had only two more base runners the rest of the game.

Not that they didn't have their chances. With one out in the eighth, Collins doubled off Dwyer's glove in left. But when he tried for a triple, he was thrown out by about five feet, with Alan Wiggins relaying Dwyer's throw to O'Malley.

"I thought I was going to walk into third base," Collins said. "I was surprised when I saw Dwyer throw to second. I also thought Wiggins would be covering second, but it was a costly mistake."

Hitting coach Terry Crowley rejoined the team after spending the weekend in Bluefield, W.Va., where son Terry Jr. made his pro debut. In four games, Terry Jr., a shortstop, went seven for 19.