Niekro--Joe, That Is--Shuts Out Angels : He and Brother Phil Tie the Perrys’ Record as Yankees Win, 3-0
A cooler full of champagne waited in his locker Saturday night after Joe Niekro chilled the Angels, pitching the New York Yankees to a 3-0 victory before a crowd of 43,781 at Anaheim Stadium.
When it came time to pass out a few of the dozen or so bottles, Niekro handed the first to Rick Cerone, who caught the veteran knuckleballer’s 216th career victory.
The second went to Dave (Rags) Righetti, who preserved the win after relieving Niekro in the eighth inning.
The festivities were interrupted when Niekro, 42, left to take a congratulatory telephone call from his 48-year-old brother, Phil, the Cleveland Indian pitcher who probably deserves a bottle or two himself.
By the time Joe and Phil see each other again, they probably will be the winningest brother combination in baseball history.
Joe’s victory against the Angels tied the Niekro brothers, both of whom are nicknamed Knucksie, with the Perry brothers, Gaylord and Jim, who won 529 games between them.
Phil, whose 313 career victories leaves him one shy of Gaylord Perry’s career mark, can give the Niekros the record Wednesday night against Boston.
And if Phil beats the Red Sox, Knucksie and Knucksie (or, “two Polish guys from Lansing, Ohio,” as Joe categorized the Niekros for a group of reporters) will be the hottest brother act this side of Larry, Darryl and Darryl of the “Newhart” television show.
“I was a little nervous before the game,” said Niekro, who settled down quickly against a struggling Angel team that fell to 21-21. “I started thinking about it a lot when I got to the bullpen. This is baseball history, and it feels good.”
Niekro, who took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of his only other victory at Anaheim last June 4, said it was important to him that he pitch well in the game that tied the record, and he did.
He allowed only five hits, struck out five and walked none while making only 96 pitches in 7 innings.
“I would have liked to have closed it,” he said, “but when you’ve got Rags out there, there’s no reason to second guess the manager. He (Righetti) is the best in the business.”
Niekro, who played with Phil for two seasons in Atlanta and was reunited with his brother briefly with the Yankees after being traded from Houston in 1985, said the ideal scenario for the record-breaker would be for Phil to get the win and Joe to get a save.
That not being possible, he said he would like Phil to break the record.
“Of course, he wants me to break it,” Joe said.
It’s not likely they’ll face each other with the record on the line. The Yankees and Indians don’t meet again until after the All-Star break.
Angel starter Willie Fraser, who grew up about 50 miles up the Hudson River from New York City in Newburgh, N.Y., was a victim of his own poor control and an ill-advised play by third baseman Doug DeCinces in a three-run Yankee second inning.
Fraser, who had walked only three batters over 17 innings in his last two starts, walked Dan Pasqua and Mike Pagliarulo with one out.
Cerone then bounced a Fraser pitch into the dirt in front of home plate and toward third base. The ball appeared to be heading foul before DeCinces fielded it with his bare hand and threw late to first.
That loaded the bases for Wayne Tolleson, who fouled off several pitches before lining a single to left, scoring Pasqua. Fraser then walked Rickey Henderson, scoring Pagliarulo. Willie Randolph followed with a sacrifice fly, scoring Cerone to make it 3-0.
Niekro, meanwhile, had impeccable control, retiring the first 10 batters he faced, four of them on strikeouts. Niekro, who walked a season-high six batters in his last start, an 8-3 win May 17 at Seattle, walked none against the Angels before giving way to Righetti with two out in the eighth inning.
Beside great control of his knuckler, Niekro also had the American League’s best defense working behind him. The Yankees have made only two errors in 10 games and only 23 all season, fewest in the league.
They made two nice plays behind Niekro in the fourth inning, squelching the Angels’ only rally.
After Wally Joyner hit a soft liner to center for the Angels’ first hit, Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly ranged wide of the bag on a sharp grounder by Devon White, relaying to shortstop Tolleson to force Joyner.
After DeCinces singled to left, sending White to third, Howell hit another grounder wide of first base that Mattingly couldn’t reach. Second baseman Randolph was there to back up Mattingly, though, and he threw to Niekro, covering the bag, to end the inning.
The Angels hit the ball harder against Niekro after that, but left fielder Gary Ward made a running catch on a DeCinces drive into the corner in the sixth to cut short a potential rally, and third baseman Pagliarulo leaped high to spear a line drive by Dick Schofield in the seventh, taking a hit away from the Angel shortstop.
Righetti came on with two out in the eighth and Mark McLemore, who had singled and stolen second, on second base. He retired Joyner on a grounder to second, and gave up only a single to DeCinces in the ninth to pick up his 11th save.
After giving up seven hits and six runs, all earned, in a 7-2 loss to the Yankees Friday night, Angel right-hander Mike Witt called his performance “disgusting” and said he had “embarrassed” himself. Witt, who lasted four innings or less only once all last season and pitched into the seventh inning in 32 of his 34 starts, has already lasted four innings or less three times in 10 starts this season. The Yankees’ Don Mattingly, who hit a two-run third-inning home run against the Angel ace Friday night, said Witt “didn’t seem to have quite the pop” that he had last year.
“I’m concerned, obviously,” Angel pitching coach Marcel Lachemann said Saturday, “but I don’t think it’s anything we can’t work out. . . . I spent a lot of time today looking at the videotape trying to find something, and I couldn’t find anything specific. And I looked at those three innings for about an hour. But I think we’ve got to keep digging because when Mike Witt has good stuff like that, he should not be knocked around.”
Angel Manager Gene Mauch said that rookie right-hander Mike Cook, who relieved Witt in the fourth inning Friday and allowed only one run and five hits in six innings, will start next Sunday’s game at Toronto. Mauch said that Cook had been scheduled to start against the Blue Jays, and that Cook’s performance against the Yankees only made Mauch feel better about the assignment. . . . John Candelaria will not be with the Angels Wednesday when they begin an eight-game trip in Baltimore, although the left-hander is eligible to come off the disabled list Friday. Mauch said Candelaria may join the team later on the trip, which will also take the Angels to Toronto and New York.
Bob Boone, unsuccessful against the first 10 runners who tried to steal against him after his return to the Angel roster May 1, caught Dave Winfield in the fifth inning Friday night to break the string. He also threw out Wayne Tolleson attempting to steal in the sixth. . . . Left-hander Ron Guidry, who signed May 1 and pitched five innings last Tuesday for Triple-A Columbus, was activated by the Yankees. To make room for Guidry on their roster, the Yankees optioned reliever Pat Clements, a former UCLA left-hander, to Columbus. Clements, who was 5-0 with one save in 41 relief appearances for the Angels in 1985 before being traded along with outfielder Mike Brown to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Candelaria, Al Holland and George Hendrick, had given up only one run in his last seven appearances, a span of 11 innings. “It’s strictly a matter of numbers,” Yankee Manager Lou Piniella said. “He pitched well. We just needed a roster spot.” . . . The Yankees announced that Tommy John (3-1) will replace Charlie Hudson as their starting pitcher Monday against the Angels’ Jack Lazorko. Hudson, who had been scheduled to move up in the rotation, will take his regular turn Wednesday night in New York against Seattle.