The Angels weren't really concerned about the tendinitis in Mike Witt's right shoulder. They felt that the cortisone Witt has been taking since Monday would handle that.
They were more concerned about Witt's back and the burden he was forced to carry Thursday night.
--Witt would be trying to defuse the Bronx Bombers, deactivating a New York team that had won seven straight games and 14 of its last 15. The Yankees had also won six of its seven games with the Angels this year, compiling a scoring edge of 44-23.
--He also would be trying to give relief to the Angels bullpen--a needed night off for the recent workhorses, Stewart Cliburn, Al Holland and Luis Sanchez; a spiritual lift for a pitching staff that lost both Geoff Zahn and Urbano Lugo to the disabled list this week.
There was also the matter of the Angels' dwindling lead in the American League West. Once 7 1/2 games over Kansas City, it was down to 1 1/2.
Witt responded to the assignment in style. He equaled his season high with 10 strike outs, scattered eight hits and allowed only two unearned runs in nine innings.
He also emerged with his 11th win against 7 defeats when Bob Boone, who had been unable to start because of a strained groin muscle, batted for Jerry Narron in the ninth and delivered a single to left off Dave Righetti, snapping a 2-2 tie and giving the Angels a 3-2 victory.
Ron Guidry, who came in with a 16-4 record, had pitched the first eight innings for the Yankees and was scored on only in the sixth, when Brian Downing, batting .447 in August, drilled a two-run homer, his 16th of the season and eighth in the last 23 games.
Rich Bordi was summoned to pitch the ninth for the Yankees and promptly walked Bobby Grich. Juan Beniquez then put down a sacrifice bunt on which third baseman Mike Pagliarulo made a late throw to second.
Righetti, who pitched in all three games of the series, replaced Bordi and got Rod Carew to pop out on a bunt attempt. Righetti then struck out Jack Howell, but Boone, who had driven to Anaheim Stadium to receive clubhouse treatment for his injury both in mid-morning and mid-afternoon, followed with a clean single that scored Grich, preserving the Angels' 1 1/2-game lead over Kansas City.
Aside from the pressure on Witt, the Angels went into this one with Doug DeCinces still sidelined by back spasms and Boone questionable because of his strained groin.
"I don't have any negative feelings about this club," Manager Gene Mauch said before it started, "because every time we get sick, we get well."
But despite the Angels' pattern of responding to adversity, Mauch held a pregame meeting apparently designed to remind his team that it was still in first place, that he didn't want anyone losing faith over the two defeats to New York and that the task simply demanded a greater level of concentration and effort.
Mauch emerged from the meeting and said his main concern was getting some innings from Witt.
"We've got to get a strong performance out of Mike," he said, "just like the Yankees have to get a strong performance out of Guidry. All of their pitchers have been in three of four, five of seven games, too. They're counting on a complete game out of Guidry and we're counting on one from Mike."
Witt delivered his sixth complete game in 26 starts, showing no signs of the shoulder stiffness that had plagued his recent work.
"He was super," Yankee Manager Billy Martin said. "It took that kind of performance to stop us."
Witt allowed only a first-inning run on Dave Winfield's single and a fourth-inning run on a single by Bobby Meacham. A Dick Schofield error on a difficult grounder hit by Rickey Henderson set up the first run. Witt's wild pickoff throw and a botched rundown after the Angels guessed right and pitched out on a squeeze bunt attempt set up the second.
The Angels, however, made some plays when they had to. A George Hendrick to Bobby Grich to Jerry Narron relay cut down Winfield attempting to score on Ken Griffey's double in the first. Center fielder Gary Pettis made a patented, leaping catch of Henderson's two-out, two-on drive to the warning track in the second, then made an over-the-shoulder basket catch of a Don Mattingly drive to the same spot in the fifth.
Mattingly went 0 for 5, his 19-game hitting streak ending.
The Angels emerged with nine hits. One was a Schofield double preceding Downing's latest bomb. The ninth, of course, was Boone's game winner.
"I could have started," he said later, "but we decided it was better to be careful with it. I didn't know if Gene would use me or not, but I stayed loose and stayed ready."
Mauch's thoughts were on Witt, who made 176 pitches and would not have come out for the 10th. "He was dynamite," the manager said. "He was everything we needed."