ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Standing so far out of first place presents occasional advantages.
After they lost to Houston late Tuesday, the Los Angeles Angels received a bit of good news: Instead of drawing the Astros' talented Lance McCullers on Wednesday, they would face Mike Fiers, an inconsistent long reliever.
Houston's stated reason for scratching McCullers was arm fatigue he felt in a game of catch. Surely, their 14-game American League West lead on the Angels played a role too: They would like to preserve McCullers for the postseason.
The Angels took the stroke of luck and thrashed Fiers in a 9-1 victory at Angel Stadium. They scored a run before he could record an out and five before he could finish the first inning.
Brandon Phillips and Mike Trout began with consecutive doubles, and Kole Calhoun and Andrelton Simmons soon knocked another set of doubles. Luis Valbuena, up next, sent a soaring homer into the right-field bleachers, supplying the Angels that impenetrable five-run lead. As he often does, Valbuena flipped his bat to celebrate his achievement.
When Valbuena approached the plate to begin the fourth inning, Fiers, his former teammate, fired a fastball far above his head. As players in both dugouts inched toward the field, Valbuena lifted one hand at Fiers, frustrated. Both teams received warnings.
"When you do something like that as disrespectful as he did, you've got to send some kind of message," Fiers said. "I'm not trying to hit him. But something has to be said."
Valbuena knocked Fiers' next pitch into right field for a double, sparking a three-run inning. He said he did not receive Fiers' message as intended. "If you want to hit me, that's OK," Valbuena said. "But if I hit another home run, you'll see what happens."
Left-hander Tyler Skaggs stewarded the eight-run lead with remarkable efficiency. Against an aggressive Astros lineup, he needed 60 pitches to finish five innings and 85 to settle seven. He issued his first walk in the fifth, then erased it with a double-play ball. Wielding a new, effective two-seam fastball, he gave up only three singles in seven scoreless innings: a bunt, a blooper, and a grounder through the middle.
"His stuff is real," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.