Except for one season with the New York Yankees, Phil Niekro has never been much of a pitcher in April. In cool weather, he has trouble controlling his famous knuckleball.
But the weather is warming, and the 48-year-old Niekro is once again a tough pitcher to hit.
Niekro gave up six hits in 7 innings Friday night at Kansas City and pitched the Cleveland Indians to a 2-0 victory over the Royals.
It was the 313th victory in a career that began with the Milwaukee Braves in 1964, and it gave him a 2-0 record this season. Rich Yett took over after Niekro gave up singles to Jamie Quirk and Willie Wilson with one out in the eighth. Yett worked out of the jam and earned his first save.
Mel Hall hit a two-run home run for the only runs in the seventh inning. It was only the fourth hit given up by the Royals' Mark Gubicza (1-4).
Niekro is 8-3 lifetime against the Royals. "I don't know what it is," he said. "Some guys always seem to have better luck against some teams. I don't try to figure it out.
"I had good control with the knuckleball. I changed speeds a lot. I threw very few fastballs."
Manager Pat Corrales of the Indians lauded his old pitcher. "He's been keeping us in games," he said. "He gave us a lead against the Yankees and we blew it."
It was the seventh time in 20 games this season the Royals have been shut out.
"Hall hit a down-and-away fastball," Gubicza said. "If I go out and give up just a few hits and two runs, I'll take that every time."
Toronto 3, Texas 2--The Blue Jays keep saying they are close to signing outfielder Jesse Barfield to a long-term multimillion-dollar contract. They better hurry before the price gets even higher.
Barfield, who led the majors in home runs last season with 40, hit two at Toronto, the second one in the 10th inning to end the Rangers' six-game winning streak.
The two home runs give Barfield seven for the season. His first of the game came in the fifth after Jose Guzman had retired 13 batters in a row. Texas pitchers had not given up a home run in more than 60 innings.
It was the fifth win in a row for the Blue Jays, and it went to rookie pitcher Jeff Musselman. It was the fourth extra-inning win in a row for Toronto.
Minnesota 7, New York 4--The road has not been kind to the Yankees. After their 10-game winning streak, they had to visit other cities.
Steve Lombardozzi had the first two-home run game of his career at Minneapolis, and the Twins handed the Yankees their fifth loss in six games on this trip.
Bert Blyleven, replaced after giving up a two-run home run to Dan Pasqua in the ninth, struck out 10 in eight innings to win the 231st of his career.
Gary Gaetti led off the fourth with a home run off Rick Rhoden (2-3) and it started a five-run uprising.
Chicago 5, Baltimore 1--Greg Walker, Ivan Calderon and Tim Hulett hit home runs in the sixth inning at Baltimore to set a White Sox record and give Floyd Bannister (2-1) the victory.
Bannister, after pitching out of several jams, had only a 1-0 lead until the home run barrage gave him some breathing room.
Walker was 4 for 61 before he singled in the third inning. The home run was his third.
Cal Ripken homered in the eighth for the Orioles' run.
Milwaukee 10, Seattle 8--Jim Gantner went 4 for 4, including his second home run and drove in five runs at Seattle as the Brewers improved their record to 19-3.
Gantner singled in a run in the sixth to break a 6-6 tie, then hit a two-run home run in the eighth to pad the lead.
Paul Mirabella retired only two batters, but improved his record to 2-0. Dan Plesac pitched 1 innings to earn his eighth save.
Dale Sveum hit his third home run and Glenn Braggs his fifth for the soaring Brewers. Juan Castillo scored four runs and drove in another.
Oakland 2, Detroit 1--Terry Steinbach's bases-loaded single with one out in the 13th inning lifted the A's past the Tigers.
Mike Davis led off the 13th with a double off Bryan Kelly. Mark McGwire was intentionally walked, and Stan Javier's bunt single loaded the bases.
Mike Gallego, the next batter, struck out, but Steinback came through.