BALTIMORE, AUG. 19 -- It was something to behold, this stunning debut. Anthony Telford, throwing more balls than strikes and failing to record a strikeout for the first time in his career, still had enough -- though not too much -- to confound the Oakland Athletics.

Making his first major league appearance just days after being called up from Class AA Hagerstown, Telford stymied the A's on one hit over seven innings today, leading the Orioles to a 3-2 victory before 47,756 at Memorial Stadium and offering a glimpse of the talent that might provide the perfect complement to a rotation being built around Ben McDonald.

More importantly, Telford's performance kept slumping Baltimore (57-62) alive in the American League East race. With the Boston Red Sox winning at home today against California, Baltimore goes to Fenway Park trailing the Red Sox by seven games as the teams begin a critical -- at least for the Orioles -- three-game series Monday. Toronto, with a victory over Minnesota today, remains one percentage point behind the Red Sox.

"I said I would have liked to go to Boston down by four or five {games} because I thought it would put more emphasis on the series for them," Manager Frank Robinson said. "Then we wouldn't feel like we'd have to sweep them."

By the time he was replaced after the seventh inning, Telford was in total command, capitalizing on a lead that came on homers by Cal Ripken (No. 16) and Joe Orsulak (No. 11). It was the type of outing that surely will keep Telford in the rotation, if not permanently then until he pitches his way out of it.

After a scoreless inning by Curt Schilling, Robinson turned to stopper Gregg Olson in the ninth. Telford's 3-0 lead figured to be safe. But Olson, who earned his 28th save, allowed a two-run homer to Mark McGwire -- the first Olson had given up in 72 1/3 innings at home -- to make things close.

Not that it mattered. The rookie, whose previous Memorial Stadium appearance was a three-hitter for Hagerstown on July 22, already had made the game his.

"It can't get any better than what happened to me today," Telford said. "I was pretty nervous. If you asked me before the game, I would have said it doesn't bother me a bit. I would have been lying, of course."

Telford had reason to be uneasy. It was only Friday he was preparing for a start against Eastern League rival Albany. He grew up as an A's fan in San Jose and knew his parents and friends would be watching on television in northern California.

He went to the mound not knowing exactly what to expect.

Neither did the world champion A's (77-44). Telford, after throwing three consecutive balls to leadoff hitter Rickey Henderson, was quietly efficient. He didn't give up a hit until Terry Steinbach's single in the fifth with two out.

Telford issued four walks but didn't allow a runner past first base. And despite throwing 48 balls and 44 strikes, the right-hander never was in serious trouble.

"Probably the biggest thing going for me all day is that Oakland's never seen me," said Telford, 24. "I tried not to envision anything and tried not to set any goals today except to keep the team in the game. I just went out there and tried to concentrate on every pitch, which, unfortunately, I didn't do. But I concentrated on the pitches I had to."

He lived a charmed existence early. With two out in the third, Henderson popped up in foul territory to sure-handed David Segui at first base. But Segui lost it in the sun, after which Henderson drew a walk.

Telford stayed calm, though, and picked off Henderson on his third throw to the bag. In the sixth, he induced Henderson to ground into a double play after walking Mike Gallego to start the inning.

"He made us make outs," said Henderson, whose two-run homer Saturday night caused McDonald's first career loss. Telford "threw the ball well, but I wouldn't say he overpowered us."

The first Oriole since Olson to win his major league debut and to go from Class AA to the majors, Telford was robbed somewhat of his velocity and forced to change his style after shoulder surgery in August 1988.

Now he relies on his curveball in tight spots. Several times Telford bailed himself out of unfavorable counts with good breaking balls. The only hit he allowed, Steinbach's, came on an ill-placed fastball -- right down the middle.

"I didn't hit the spots I wanted to," Telford said. "I tried a little too hard to get the outside fastball over. . . . I fell behind on a lot of hitters."

Said A's slugger Jose Canseco: "He threw well and he threw strikes. Even when he was behind in the count, he was throwing strikes with the breaking ball. It's only going to help him."

The Orioles did much better with Scott Sanderson, who was coming off his first shutout in more than four years. While Sanderson (12-8) struck out five in the first four innings, he allowed a solo homer to Ripken with two outs in the first, then surrendered a two-run shot to Orsulak in the fifth.

With five players on the disabled list -- although second baseman Bill Ripken is eligible to be activated Monday -- the Orioles limp into Boston needing nothing less than three victories. It's obviously not the best situation for a club that remains alive in the pennant race despite playing sub-.500 baseball this season.

"We have to go in there thinking sweep," Robinson said. "We can't concentrate on winning the third game. We have to concentrate on winning the first."

OAKLAND ab r h bi BALTIMORE ab r h bi RHndrsn lf 3 0 0 0 BAndrsn cf 3 1 1 0 Blnknshp 2b 0 0 0 0 Orsulak lf 4 1 1 2 Lansford 3b 4 0 1 0 CRipken ss 4 1 1 1 JCanseco rf 3 1 0 0 Horn dh 3 0 1 0 McGwire 1b 3 1 1 2 Tettleton c 4 0 1 0 Hassey c 3 0 0 0 Hulett 3b 3 0 1 0 Randolph pr 0 0 0 0 Wrthngton 3b 0 0 0 0 Jose cf 4 0 0 0 Segui 1b 3 0 0 0 Steinbach dh 4 0 1 0 Gonzales 2b 3 0 0 0 Weiss ss 3 0 1 0 SFinley rf 2 0 1 0 Gallego 2b 1 0 0 0 Jennings lf 1 0 0 0 Totals 29 2 4 2 Totals 29 3 7 3 Oakland 000 000 002 2 Baltimore 100 020 00x 3

DP: Baltimore 1. LOB: Oakland 5, Baltimore 5. HR: CRipken (16), Orsulak (11), McGwire (32). ATHLETICS IP H

WP: Sanderson.

Umpires: Home, Young; First, Kaiser; Second, Johnson; Third, McKean.

T: 2:38. A: 47,756.