BALTIMORE, JUNE 15 -- When they have been down and troubled and needed a helping hand in recent years, the Boston Red Sox have been able to find a friend in the Baltimore Orioles. Tonight, before a crowd of 45,503 at Memorial Stadium, their old buddies came through again.

With their manager sitting out the last of a three-game league suspension and their star third baseman sidelined by an injury, the Red Sox received the best performance of the season from starting pitcher Wes Gardner in a 4-3 victory.

Gardner (1-3) allowed six hits in 5 2/3 innings and protected an early lead provided by Danny Heep. An occasional designated hitter, first baseman Heep made his first start in the field since May 5. Batting cleanup, he delivered a second-inning two-run double that broke up a 2-2 game.

Craig Worthington's homer in the ninth made it close, but Jeff Reardon hung on for his 10th save.

The Red Sox (33-27) had lost three of their previous four, but continued their domination of the Orioles, with coach Rac Slider running the team in place of Joe Morgan. Since June 27, 1986, Boston is 37-13 against Baltimore. Going back to 1984, the Red Sox hold a 53-26 edge in the series.

The loss was the third straight and fourth in the last five games for Baltimore (29-32), which again saw its starting pitcher turn in a miserable performance. Tonight, it was Pete Harnisch (6-3) who could not get past the second inning as he made his quickest exit in 32 major league starts.

"You can't change your entire starting rotation," said Orioles Manager Frank Robinson. "The starting pitching is going to have get better. You have to be patient with them."

For the second straight night, a bright spot was Cal Ripken, who followed up a three-hit effort Thursday with a pair of singles.

Over the previous three seasons, the Red Sox have feasted on the Orioles, hitting .312 and averaging 6.3 runs in 39 games. They began tonight hungry against Harnisch, who has been Baltimore's most dependable starter.

First-inning singles by Jody Reed and Mike Greenwell (a career .425 hitter against the Orioles) set up RBI singles by Dwight Evans (one for his last 19 before the hit) and Ellis Burks (hitless in his previous 11 at-bats) for a 2-0 Boston lead.

The Orioles scored two in the first off Gardner, who brought a 7.79 ERA into the game, but improved his career record to 5-0 against Baltimore.

Joe Orsulak and the reviving Ripken had RBI singles following walks to Randy Milligan and Mickey Tettleton.

After the first, Gardner settled down and extended the success he has displayed against Baltimore.

"I wouldn't have even known that if I hadn't looked at the stat sheet before the game," said Gardner of his mastery over the Orioles. "I don't have any reason for it. There are other teams I can't beat. I think I have only one win against Kansas City, and that was in a 10-8 game."

Unlike Gardner, Harnisch never found himself.

In the second, he gave up a one-out, opposite-field single to Randy Kutcher, who played third base as Wade Boggs rested a bruised left hand.

Walks to Reed and Greenwell led to Heep (.178) blooping a two-run, opposite-field double down the left field line for a 4-2 Boston lead.

"It was a ball that ran in on me," said Heep. "You hit that ball 10 other times and it's not a hit."

After Harnisch walked Dwight Evans on four pitches to again load the bases, Robinson brought in Brian Holton.

"Harnisch didn't have much. He didn't have control of his pitches tonight," said Robinson. "The problem was that he couldn't get the ball over the plate. When he did, he got it up and got hit."

Holton induced Burks to foul out to end the inning and again bail out an Orioles starter. Baltimore starters have lasted a total of 17.1 innings in the last five games, allowing 31 hits and combining for a 10.53 ERA.

Holton was outstanding in keeping the Orioles close, pitching 3 2/3 scoreless innings.

In the third, Holton pitched out of a jam he created. He walked Tom Brunansky to lead off the inning. Recently recalled catcher John Marzano, who has hit safely in all five of his starts this season, singled to center and moved to second as Steve Finley overran the ball.

With the Orioles playing their infield in, Holton struck out Kutcher looking, got Luis Rivera on an infield popup and left both runners stranded as Reed grounded to third.

In his last eight games, Holton has a 1.93 ERA in providing much-welcomed middle relief.

"I thought we were going to blow them away," said Slider of Boston's offensive start. "One of these days we will, but we keep letting chances get away."

After the first inning, Baltimore did little to threaten Gardner. Tettleton doubled with two outs in the third and Bob Melvin doubled with two outs in the fourth. Both were stranded.

Jeff Reardon pitched the ninth for Boston, picking up his 10th save. But before he got Phil Bradley to end the game by fouling to first, he gave up a bases-empty home run to Worthington and a two-out walk to pinch-hitter Greg Walker.

Slider said the game just about summed up his three-game reign.

"It was fun," he said, "but it was a bit hairy."