Angels Knuckle Under to Yankees' Niekro, 6-0

Times Staff Writer

A slew of knucklers by Phil Niekro and a few white knucklers by the Angels' defense combined to give the New York Yankees a peculiar 6-0 victory Friday night before an Anaheim Stadium crowd of 61,066.

How peculiar was it? Well, the Angels' Mike Witt had a one-hitter through seven innings and allowed just three singles in 7 innings and yet left the game six runs behind.

Niekro, of course, contributed to that, yielding only a pair of singles to Gary Pettis through his 7 innings of work. But an equally significant contribution was made by the Angels afield, who turned a 1-0 pitchers' struggle into a runaway by committing two errors in a five-run eighth inning.

Until then, Witt (2-4) had given a performance that drew rave reviews from both locker rooms. He struck out 10 and retired the first nine batters he faced.

Angel Manager Gene Mauch: "Mike Witt had the kind of stuff our coaching staff has been waiting for all year."

Yankee Manager Billy Martin: "Witt pitched a beautiful game tonight."

Niekro: "Witt was in control of where he wanted to be, and I was in control of where I wanted to be. It was just a matter of who would get the breaks."

Niekro's team got them. They came in bunches in the Yankees' bizarre half of the eighth.

Niekro (5-2) got the only run he needed in the fourth inning when Willie Randolph walked, took second on Ken Griffey's long fly to center and scored on Don Mattingly's single.

Then came the eighth inning.

It got off to a strange enough start when Witt struck out Omar Moreno, only to have strike three skip past catcher Bob Boone for a wild pitch, enabling Moreno to reach first safely.

Bobby Meacham sacrificed Moreno to second, and then Randolph delivered hit No. 2, a single to right that advanced Moreno to third.

Griffey hit a chopper to first baseman Rod Carew, who threw home in an attempt to beat Moreno to the plate. But Carew's relay bit the dust and bounded past Boone for an error, allowing Moreno to score easily. Randolph wound up at third and Griffey at second.

Witt intentionally walked Mattingly to load the bases. Then came another error as second baseman Rob Wilfong couldn't glove a grounder off the bat of Dave Winfield.

That scored Griffey for the third run of the inning. And after Butch Wynegar walked to reload the bases, Mike Pagliarulo singled to right to bring home Mattingly and Winfield.

The Yankees scored five runs on two hits in the inning--and finished the game with six runs on three hits.

Niekro, with relief help from Ron Guidry and Don Cooper, made the most of a little offense, combining for the Yankees' first shutout of the year.

Niekro, typically, downplayed his two-hit effort.

"There were a couple of innings I struggled," he said, "I got away with a lot.

"I can't even throw the stupid pitch (knuckleball) in areas. I've got no idea where it's going. I'm lucky just to get it over the plate."

Pettis led off the first inning with a single to center, and for seven innings, that was the extent of the Angel offense.

Niekro moseyed through the Angel lineup with all the ease of one of his wait-it'll-get-there-any-minute deliveries. He retired 16 of 17 batters during one stretch, including 10 in succession.

Niekro walked four in the same span, which got him into trouble twice--not much trouble, just enough to heighten Angel expectations a bit.

In the first, after Pettis had singled, Niekro walked Brian Downing with one out. The threat died when Reggie Jackson grounded into a double play.

Niekro also walked the first two batters in the seventh inning, Downing and Jackson, but saw to it that neither advanced an inch. He first struck out Bobby Grich, then got Wilfong to fly out to shallow center field and Juan Beniquez to ground out to shortstop.

The Angels didn't get their second hit until the seventh inning, this one also by Pettis, coming on a bunt and a throw to first by Niekro that was interrupted by Pettis' back.

Niekro also walked Boone and Downing, loading the bases and prompting Yankee Manager Billy Martin to call Guidry out of the bullpen.

Guidry's assignment: Retire Reggie Jackson. Mission accomplished in three pitches, with Jackson bouncing out to first baseman Mattingly to end the inning.

Angel Notes Doug DeCinces' return to the lineup was delayed at least another day when his recurring back spasms necessitated two more cortisone injections Friday. DeCinces, who received a similar injection Monday, had expected to start the opening game of this homestand. "The back is not exactly what I thought it would be," DeCinces said. "It's still not coming around." DeCinces said he may try to take batting practice today and will be ready to play, "hopefully, Sunday or Monday." . . . Along with DeCinces, pitcher Geoff Zahn had returned home early to receive a cortisone injection Monday. Five days later, Zahn said his sore shoulder is "getting better, but I'm still aware of it (the pain). I have no timetable to throw yet. I can't do that until the inflammation goes down and there's no more irritation.". . . . With Zahn and Ken Forsch both on the disabled list, the Angels' starting pitching rotation experienced a painful road swing--allowing 26 runs in 35 innings (6.81 ERA), with no starter lasting longer than 6 innings.

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