Facing the game’s best rotation, the Angels flexed Monday, specifically their left arm.
Andrew Heaney’s eight innings of dominance lifted them to a 2-1 victory over Houston, the team that typically wins by holding down the opposition.
“That’s huge from Heaney … against an offense like that,” teammate Kole Calhoun said. “He threw one of the best games I’ve seen him throw. It was definitely huge for us.”
These are the top two teams in the American League West and two of the top four in the AL.
It’s much too early to fixate on the standings. But when is it not a good time to be measured against the best?
The Astros are the defending World Series champions and armed, quite literally, to make a spirited run at winning a second consecutive title.
Yet, it was Heaney who threw the most effective pitches in this game, aided at the end by a brilliant strike from right field by Calhoun.
Heaney retired the first six Astros in order, three by strikeout, setting a tone early that was impossible to miss.
Then, in the span of four pitches, he experienced his only truly damaging sequence of the night.
Heaney gave up a double to Josh Reddick on his second pitch of the third inning and, two pitches later, a run-scoring single to Max Stassi.
Other than that, Heaney gave Houston almost nothing, surviving a leadoff double by Evan Gattis in the fifth inning by striking out the next three batters.
“He was very pitch efficient,” Scioscia said. “Throwing strikes with everything, on both sides of the plate. … He was grinding for every out. That was a great outing.”
Heaney’s eight innings represented a career best for him and a season best for an Angels starter.
His 10 strikeouts matched his career high on a night when he was the best version of Andrew Heaney the Angels have seen.
He finished at 100 pitches, 64 of which were strikes and nearly all of which were effective.
The ninth inning belonged to rookie reliever Justin Anderson — until Calhoun stole it away.
Anderson retired the three batters necessary to save the game, but it was Calhoun who saved the night.
After a leadoff single by George Springer, Alex Bregman lifted a fly ball down the right-field line and toward the short wall in foul territory.
Calhoun measured the situation, jumped into the wall to make the catch and fired to shortstop Andrelton Simmons to get Springer attempting to advance to second base.
“That was huge, two outs right there,” said Calhoun, who leads the majors with six outfield assists. “Helped us win the game.”
This key contribution came from a player batting .158, a player who has been relegated to the bottom of the order and, for a few days recently, the end of the bench.
“Kole is such a gamer,” Scioscia said. “He knows that what he does in right field is so important for us. He’s going to help us any way he can.
Entering this series, Houston led the majors in earned-run average, strikeouts and opponent batting average at .196.
Scioscia prefers to temper the significance of every game, noting that each date on the schedule presents a challenge.
But by playing Houston this week, the Angels are facing a team particularly tough to defeat since baseball games are ultimately decided by runs scored.
And they got only two Monday against right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. (5-2), who hadn’t lost since April 6.
But two runs were just enough, thanks to Heaney’s start and Calhoun’s finish.
“To get a start like that,” Calhoun said, “in the first game of a big series, definitely huge for us.”