BALTIMORE, MAY 31 -- It was a month that began with Jim Dwyer clinging to his career with the Baltimore Orioles.

It was a month that began with Nelson Simmons a starting right fielder and John Shelby, Floyd Rayford, Jackie Gutierrez, Tony Arnold and Mike Kinnunen still wearing Orioles uniforms.

It was a month that began with Jeff Ballard and John Habyan starting at Rochester and with Tom Niedenfuer still wearing Dodger blue.

It was a month that began with Larry Sheets just having gotten a regular spot in the batting order, and with Alan Wiggins not yet having lost his.

Most of all, it was a month that began with the Orioles at their lowest point in more than in a decade. This was not an Orioles team doing an August-September fade to black. This was different, and much worse.

As May began, the Orioles had lost 11 of 15. At 9-12, they had fallen 11 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers and appeared about to bow out of contention by Mother's Day. As May began, things would get worse before they got better because the Orioles were about to lose a three-game series to the Chicago White Sox at Memorial Stadium by the dismal scores of 5-1, 7-3 and 4-3.

There would be meetings among players and manager, meetings among players and other players, and on Sunday, May 3, a tense two-hour session with owner Edward Bennett Williams doing much of the talking and General Manager Hank Peters and Manager Cal Ripken Sr. the listening.

Looking at the Orioles during the first three days of May made it hard to predict what would follow, what actually began May 1, when shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. broke up Floyd Bannister's shutout with a meaningless eighth-inning home run.

That turned out to be the beginning of one of the most incredible 4 1/2 weeks any major league team has had.

The Orioles not only got back into contention by going 17-11, they moved six games closer to first place and drew even with the once invincible Brewers.

They did it despite a 4.76 staff ERA and a starting rotation that threw only two complete games, one fewer than they had while going 9-12 in April.

But what the Orioles did that may be remembered for a few dozen years is hit home runs like no other team in history.

Ripken's was the first of a major league record 58 in the month. Along the way, there were six two-homer games, seven three-homer games, one four-homer game and, incredibly, two six-homer games. The previous record of 55 homers in a month was shared by the 1947 New York Giants and the 1964 Minnesota Twins.

Dwyer went from the edge of the waiver wire to a starting role, batting .315 with eight homers and 15 RBI. In his 12 previous seasons, he'd never hit more than nine homers in a season.

"I'd say it came at a pretty good time for me," Dwyer said.

Sheets started the month with eight games in the starting lineup, but didn't miss a single one against right-handed pitching in May. He hit .347 with 10 homers and 22 RBI and proved again that he's the best pure hitter the Orioles have produced since Cal Ripken Jr.

On May 9, he also became the 42nd player in history to homer onto the roof at Comiskey Park.

"That's the one I guess I'll always remember," Sheets said. "I'd like to have that ball back, but I guess it's not retrievable."

And first baseman Eddie Murray went from the second-worst month of his career (.181 with one homer) to one of the best. After being criticized in print and on the airwaves and after being booed at Memorial Stadium in April, he hit .343 with 11 homers and 27 RBI in May.

In all, 13 Orioles had homers, ranging from 11 by Murray and 10 by Sheets to one apiece by Ken Gerhart, Dave Van Gorder, Rene Gonzales and Lee Lacy.

"I've never seen anything like it," Ripken Sr. said, "and I guess nobody else has, either. I wouldn't be opposed to us carrying it right over into June."

The oddest part of the story is that 17 of their 58 homers, or almost 30 percent, came from Dwyer and Sheets.

Remember them? They were supposed to ride the bench this year while Gerhart, Shelby and Mike Young played. They were shuffled so far out of the Orioles' plans that they had just 49 at-bats between them in spring training. By comparison, utility man Gonzales had 39 at-bats and Rayford 23.

Dwyer didn't complain, figuring his role was again that of left-handed pinch hitter and that he would be ready when called upon.

Sheets was different. He is only 26 years old, and as the season began had a .271 career batting average. He'd also homered once every 18.9 at-bats (Murray has homered once every 20.1 at-bats in a Hall of Fame career).

He wanted to play, he was unhappy about not playing and he let people know it. He also wondered aloud why the Orioles wouldn't trade him if they weren't going to use him.

Dwyer's performance has provided him a bit of sweet revenge. He batted only 12 times in April and found himself in a bad position, a pinch hitter on a team that didn't pinch hit for many players.

Worse, when Dwyer had been given a chance to produce he hadn't, and as May began he was in a six-for-56 slump dating back to Aug. 6. Peters now says there was never any thought of releasing Dwyer, but when Dwyer's name would be mentioned earlier this season, Peters would shake his head, a clear indication he was less than happy with the 37-year-old outfielder.

Ripken put Dwyer in the lineup May 5 in Minnesota, mostly because he had nowhere else to turn. Dwyer homered that night and has played ever since.

"That first one was a big one," he said. "I really needed that one. I don't know if I was about to be released or not, but I figured I had to do something to show 'em I could still play."

Sheets also has taken his success in stride.

"I just hope that now if I go into a slump, I can keep playing," he said. "When you go through a stretch and produce and produce and produce, maybe that'll give you a little leeway when things start going bad. The main thing now for all of us is carrying it over into June. It'll be hard to continue at this pace, but we'll keep battling."

Dwyer, Sheets and other Orioles point to a couple of factors in the streak. One is that several hitters got hot at once. Another is that they played in a weekend series in Chicago when the wind was blowing out. Result: 12 homers.

They played three games in Seattle's Kingdome, a hitter's heaven. Result: six homers.

They played three games in Anaheim, Calif., another homer park. Result: six homers.

And they played 12 games in Memorial Stadium, which has become the easiest home run park in baseball. Result: 26 homers.

"Really, every park we've played in has been a home run park except Oakland," Dwyer said. "And we had our {14-game homer} streak broken there. But we've hit a bunch of homers that would be out of any park."

And when the Orioles went to Chicago the second weekend in May, they found the wind blowing out and the pitching bad. Before one game, White Sox Manager Jim Fregosi pointed at the flags blowing out and said, "This is a small park when the wind is blowing out."

And it was. On Friday, Lynn homered and Murray hit two, one left-handed and one right-handed. A day later, Murray became the first player in history to do that on back-to-back nights and led the Orioles to six: Dwyer and Sheets connected, as did Lacy and Ray Knight.

The next day, the Orioles aimed for the roof during batting practice, then hit three more during the game. After that they came in bunches, 12 in a four-game homestand, six in Anaheim, six in Seattle and five in Oakland.

They returned home to hit seven in two games against California, six of in one game.

"After a while, I think we were surprised to hit another," Dwyer said. "It wasn't like we expected it, but like it had to stop after a while."

Along the way, the Orioles changed. Shelby was sent to the minors, then traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Niedenfuer. Rayford, Arnold, Gutierrez and Kinnunen were sent to the minors. Ballard and Habyan were called up. The Orioles changed, and they got better.

"Nothing was ever written in stone," Ripken said. "I'm not surprised because I always thought these guys could hit home runs."