BALTIMORE, SEPT. 22 -- In the scheme of things, it was a small victory for the Baltimore Orioles. But since small victories are the only ones left to achieve this season, moving into fifth place will have to do.

Behind strong pitching from Dave Johnson and with offensive support from Mike Devereaux, the Orioles did so tonight, defeating the Milwaukee Brewers, 3-2, before 27,215 at Memorial Stadium.

Johnson (12-8) earned his first victory since Aug. 2 by allowing two runs in six-plus innings, while Devereaux hit a fourth-inning, three-run homer off Brewers rookie Kevin Brown.

The win enabled the Orioles (69-81) to take a half-game lead over the Brewers (69-82). The Orioles trail fourth place Cleveland by 2 1/2.

It was not easy for Johnson, who allowed baserunners each of the first six innings but allowed only one to score.

"He wasn't as sharp as he normally is," Orioles Manager Frank Robinson said. "But I'll tell you what -- he battles you and he knows how to pitch and, most of the time, he gets out of trouble."

"There was no inning when I breezed," Johnson said. "It was a typical game for me."

Johnson was helped by the relief corps of Daniel Boone, Jose Bautista and Kevin Hickey, with the latter picking up his first save of the year by working a 1-2-3 ninth.

To win, Johnson had to outduel Brown, making his first major league start. The 24-year-old left-hander, acquired Sept. 7 from the New York Mets as a player to be named later in the deal for catcher Charlie O'Brien, allowed three runs and five hits over seven innings. He made only one mistake -- a slider that didn't slide to Devereaux. Devereaux -- mired in a three-for-26 slump -- came to bat with two outs and two on in the fourth and ripped Brown's 1-1 pitch off the left field foul pole to give Baltimore a 3-1 lead. The homer was Devereaux's ninth, topping by one the total from his rookie season.

"I wasn't being cautious," Brown said. "I was just pitching poorly for the situation."

Devereaux, who has been bothered by tendinitis in his right elbow, said he was helped by a closed-door meeting Friday with batting coach Tom McCraw.

"We looked at some of the films of myself and I saw some things I was doing differently," he said.

The Brewers got a run in the fourth on Darryl Hamilton's groundout, and Johnson finally ran out of luck in the seventh, when Jim Gantner led off with a double and moved to third on Bill Spiers's single. Boone entered and, against his first batter, was witness to an odd play that began when Mike Felder hit a short-hop grounder to first. Spiers, not knowing whether David Segui had caught the ball or not, stayed on the bag. But Segui erred by touching the bag before touching Spiers, which allowed Spiers to legally remain at first base.

"You don't see that too often and most of the time it is totally confusing," Robinson said. "You hope he'll tag the runner first to eliminate any doubt and then tag the bag."

Gantner trimmed the lead to 3-2 by scoring on B.J. Surhoff's groundout, but Boone left the tying run at third by enticing Paul Molitor to fly out to center.

"If we make reasonable contact, we might score more runs," Brewers Manager Tom Trebelhorn said. "We're not scoring runs very well right now. . . . We're getting enough hits, but they're just not timely."

Orioles Notes: Surhoff was thrown out attempting to steal in the first inning, making opponents zero for eight in steal attempts against Johnson in his career. Surhoff was the first player to attempt a steal against Johnson this season. . . . The Orioles will open and close next season at home, according to the 1991 schedule released today. The Orioles will begin the season on April 8 against the Chicago White Sox and conclude against the Detroit Tigers on Oct. 6. . . . The Orioles and Brewers will conclude their season series tomorrow, with Ben McDonald (7-5, 2.84) facing left-hander Teddy Higuera (10-8, 3.61).