BALTIMORE, SEPT. 4 -- His elbow didn't hurt, his back didn't ache and his knee didn't buckle. On a night when Mike Boddicker's body held together, so did the Baltimore Orioles, beating Oakland, 5-2, before 19,275 at Memorial Stadium.

Ray Knight hit a two-run homer, the game-winning blow, and rookie Pete Stanicek broke open a 3-2 contest with a two-run sixth-inning single.

The Orioles (61-73) play 22 of their final 28 games against contending teams, and they started that streak tonight by dropping the second-place Athletics (68-66) to three games behind Minnesota in the American League West. The Twins beat Milwaukee, 2-1, in 12 innings.

"This is the role we have to play," Boddicker (10-7) said. "We've got to have some fun beating these teams and knocking them out of the race. We've still got a little something to shoot for."

All season, the Orioles have been one team with Boddicker on the mound and another with anyone else. That was true again tonight as they extended their record to 17-11 in Boddicker's 28 starts, a pace that would win them 98 games if everyone else were as effective.

And even his season has been less than perfect because he has been forced to leave four games with different injuries and miss a start because of a sore back.

When he has pitched, his luck hasn't been the best. In five games, he left with a lead only to sit in the dugout and watch the Orioles' bullpen fail to hold it.

Tonight, he pitched a six-hitter for his sixth complete game. He was shaky early, allowing Carney Lansford's 18th homer in the second and rookie Mark McGwire's 41st in the fifth.

But the Orioles got him two runs in the fourth on Knight's 12th homer and two more in the sixth on Stanicek's bases-loaded single, and Boddicker shut out the Athletics for the final four innings.

"I had a lot of nothing," Boddicker said. "My curveball did come around later on, but otherwise I just spotted the fastball. It's amazing what you can do with an 83-mile-per-hour {fastball}."

The Orioles keep hoping September will bring some good news, and it appears to have arrived in the person of Stanicek, a 24-year-old they believe can be their leadoff man the next decade or so. He came with all the tools: speed, a quick bat and a Stanford education. He experienced a rapid rise through the minor leagues, successful at each stop and hitting .309 at Rochester and Charlotte this summer.

Tonight, he was on base twice with a walk in the sixth and a two-run single in the sixth. In three games, he's hitting .364 with a .462 on-base average.

"I didn't even know if I'd get a chance to come up this year," he said, "but it's a good chance for me. It's a good exposure to big league pitching."

Lansford's homer got the Athletics a 1-0 lead, but Mike Hart's sacrifice fly tied it in the second. Knight's homer got the Orioles a 3-1 lead in the fourth before McGwire brought the Athletics within 3-2.

That was it for Oakland. Boddicker allowed only two more base runners and retired the final six A's in order for his first complete game since July 28.

The Orioles broke the game open in the sixth. Larry Sheets led off with a single, and Jim Dwyer walked. Oakland starter Gene Nelson (6-4) then got Knight and Terry Kennedy on fly balls, but walked Hart to load the bases. Nelson, who'd flirted with disaster since the second inning, then made one mistake too many, getting an offspeed pitch up in the strike zone to Stanicek.

Stanicek slapped it into the right field corner for a single, scoring Sheets and Dwyer for a 5-2 lead.

"He got a change-up and he poked it," Oakland Manager Tony La Russa said. "You're in a tough position when you really don't know people at all."

Orioles Notes:

Baltimore received 21-year-old right-handed pitcher Jose Mesa as the player to be named later in the trade that sent Mike Flanagan to the Toronto Blue Jays. Earlier, the Orioles announced they'd received Oswald Peraza, another minor league pitcher. Both throw hard, although Mesa's control is shaky: 104 walks in 193 innings. Mesa was 10-13 with a 5.21 ERA at Class AA Knoxville this season. going 10-13 with a 5.21 ERA . . .

Bill Ripken, hitting .315, hasn't gone consecutive games without a hit since his first two games.