BALTIMORE, AUG. 10 -- This night, defense failed what had been the the major leagues' most sure-handed team in 1987. The Baltimore Orioles made an error on the game's first play, two more on a bunt in the eighth inning and another on what should have been a double-play ball in the seventh.

Although they tied a club record by turning five double plays, defense was about to cost them the game until Larry Sheets dumped a two-out, two-run, broken-bat single into center field off reliever Ed Vande Berg in the last of the eighth for a 4-3 victory over Cleveland before 21,557 at Memorial Stadium.

Before tonight, the Orioles' defense had been no less consistent than Sheets, who has gone from a bench role in April to a starring role in August.

They entered tonight's game having played 111 games and made 69 errors, fewest in the major leagues. Tonight, though, they got one apiece from first baseman Eddie Murray, third baseman Ray Knight, reliever Mark Williamson and rookie second baseman Bill Ripken.

Ripken's came on his 107th chance in the big leagues, and incredibly, one of his 11 chances tonight. It also came a couple of seconds after Williamson's, and those two miscues helped the Indians to a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth.

Then, in the bottom of the inning, with two runners on, Sheets delivered his eighth game-winning RBI. Although he's not yet the major leagues' best hitter, he's certainly one of its most efficient, having driven in 69 runs in 293 at-bats. That figures to one every 4.24 at-bats. In his last 68 games, he has driven in 63 runs.

Tonight, he raised his average to a team-high .324 with a double and two singles.

Orioles Manager Cal Ripken Sr. said he considered not letting the left-hand batting Sheets hit against the left-hand throwing Vande Berg, but added, "He's swinging the bat very well right now. That's not to say I won't pinch hit for him tomorrow, but when you pinch hit for a guy who's leading the club in hitting, sometimes that can be a little difficult."

Sheets gave his usual aw-shucks response, telling reporters: "He threw a couple of good curves, but the last one kind of stayed inside a little bit." Sheets has four homers in his last four games, but said he wasn't thinking homer in this situation.

"Like Earl {Weaver} used to say, 'You can help us by making the ball hit the outfield grass,' " he said.

Williamson (6-8) got the victory with 1 2/3 innings of relief. He left with two outs in the ninth, and Tom Niedenufer got his seventh save by getting Cory Snyder to pop to third base. Sheets and Bill Ripken each had three hits, and Bill Ripken is right behind Sheets at .312.

While the Orioles (51-61) made those four errors, they also executed those five double plays, and Ripken said, "As long as we can get double plays, the errors won't hurt. Tonight, the errors didn't cost us the ball game."

The other good news for the Orioles was the performance of starter Mike Flanagan, who pitched seven-plus innings, allowing six hits and three runs. The only negative is that Ripken removed him after only 94 pitches.

"He pitched well," Ripken Sr. said. "His fastball had life. He had a good curve. His change-up was working. He had good command of all his pitches. I took him out because it looked like he was forcing the ball."

Flanagan struggled from the beginning, but unlike his start in Milwaukee last week he did survive, at least long enough to face one batter in the eighth. The Orioles helped him by turning double plays in the first, third, fifth and seventh innings.

Ken Gerhart led off the Orioles first inning with his 14th homer, but the Indians took a 2-1 lead in the third. Snyder and Andy Allanson singled. Brett Butler's single scored Snyder, and Tommy Hinzo's double-play grounder scored Allanson for a 2-1 lead.

During starter Rich Yett's 6 2/3 innings, the Orioles scored only two runs despite getting eight hits and having men on base in every inning except the second and sixth.

Still, they didn't tie the game until the fifth, and then only after Sheets blooped a one-out double to left. He went to third on Mike Young's grounder. Yett walked Gerhart, and Bill Ripken got Sheets home by beating out a hit.

The Indians broke the tie in a weird eighth inning that began with Butler walking. After Williamson entered, Hinzo bunted.

Williamson kicked the ball toward the first-base line for one error. Bill Ripken picked up the rolling ball and beat Hinzo to first base, but got a elbow in the head and dropped the ball.

"The only thing I wanted to do was catch him and tag him," Bill Ripken said. "I didn't know where he was, as opposed to where I was."

Butler went to second on Williamson's error and to third on Ripken's. He scored on Julio Franco's double-play grounder.

Trailing by 3-2, the Orioles got the lead back in the last of the eighth. Lynn singled with one out off Don Gordon, and Ray Knight walked. Terry Kennedy flied to left, and Vande Berg came in to face Sheets, who singled for two runs. p