ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)—On the way to their biggest victory of the season, the Los Angeles Angels showed they’re in fighting form.
Ivan Rodriguez and Torii Hunter got into a bench-clearing scuffle in the sixth inning Monday night, when the Angels scored six runs en route to a 12-1 victory over the New York Yankees that reduced their magic number to two for clinching the AL West title.
The Angels are on track to wrap up their fourth division crown in five seasons by the earliest date in franchise history. They can do it Tuesday night with another win over the Yankees and a Texas loss at Seattle.
Last season, Los Angeles clinched on Sept. 23.
“We have a pretty good lead so no one is feeling pressure to get it done,” said Brandon Wood, who homered twice.
Ivan Rodriguez took an openhanded swing at Hunter—and missed—after getting shoved in the back by the Angels star following a play at the plate. The benches emptied and players spilled onto the field, pushing and shoving.
“It happened so fast,” Hunter said. “I don’t know if Pudge thought I pushed him. He pushed me. It just got frustrating.”
Ivan Rodriguez and Hunter, friendly off the field, later met during the game and cleared the air.
“Torii is a nice guy. We apologized to each other,” Rodriguez said. “He’s a very professional player and so am I. I’ve been in baseball for 18 years and I’ve never started a fight. I compete and I compete hard. And sometimes when you compete hard, things like that happen.”
With the Yankees likely to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1993, manager Joe Girardi was glad to see some feistiness in his team despite being on the wrong end of the Angels’ largest margin of victory this season.
“It’s not something that you want to see happen, but it’s emotion,” he said. “Pudge was showing emotion, and I’m OK with that. Emotion is a good thing. It’s baseball. Boys being boys.”
After the game resumed, New York pitching coach Dave Eiland passed out in the dugout. Eiland was helped to his feet by teammates and escorted by a trainer up the runway toward the clubhouse.
The 42-year-old Eiland was in the middle of the tussle as players pushed and shoved each other near home plate. Replays showed someone’s hand scraping across Eiland’s face, but the coach did not appear to get knocked down.
Eiland left the game after feeling dizzy and losing his balance in the dugout. He was examined by a doctor and later felt fine, a Yankees spokesman said.
“He’s been fighting a cold and he worked out hard this morning,” Girardi said. “I think the last time he ate was 1 o’clock. He took some medicine during the game and got lightheaded and dizzy and passed out. But he’s OK now. I just told him to eat.”
Jon Garland (13-8) retired 12 in a row after an up-and-down start, getting bottom-of-the-lineup offensive support from unlikely home run hitters Wood and Sean Rodriguez. Garland allowed one run and six hits in seven innings.
Wood’s third homer of the season broke a 1-all tie in the third when he hit an 0-1 pitch from Carl Pavano (2-1) into the visitors’ bullpen. Pavano gave up five runs and six hits in 5 1-3 innings.
The Yankees lost the season series for the fifth consecutive time. They are 2-6 with two games remaining in Anaheim.
Los Angeles broke the game open with six runs in the sixth. Sean Rodriguez led off with his second homer of the season, sneaking an 0-1 pitch just inside the left-field foul pole for a 3-1 lead.
Hunter singled and stole second and third against Ivan Rodriguez, but got hung up on Mike Napoli’s grounder to third. Hunter came into the plate standing up and bumped the catcher, who applied the tag and then appeared to nudge Hunter with his left elbow before walking toward the mound.
Hunter turned, took a few steps and shoved Rodriguez in the back—hard. The catcher whipped off his mask and charged at Hunter, but was restrained by plate umpire Ted Barrett while missing on an openhanded swing.
“He was out by plenty and he came hard on me and hit me with the elbows up. He just grabbed me from behind and I tried to release him from behind,” Rodriguez said. “Then he hit me from behind and that’s when everything happened. But it’s over.”
Both benches cleared, with players milling in a mass at the plate, pushing and shoving. Relievers came running out of the bullpens before order was restored. Angels manager Mike Scioscia led a shouting Hunter away, while fans chanted angry words at the Yankees.
Standing in the dugout, Hunter pointed his finger in Ivan Rodriguez’s direction as the catcher waited near the mound while the umpires sorted things out. Both players were ejected, the first time this season for Hunter and Rodriguez’s first with the Yankees.
“I want to apologize to the fans for my temper flaring, but also, I don’t take no mess,” Hunter said.
After things calmed down, Wood singled in a run and Napoli scored on an error by right fielder Bobby Abreu, giving the Angels an 8-1 lead.
Los Angeles added three runs in the seventh on Guerrero’s RBI double and a two-run double by Gary Matthews Jr., who replaced Hunter in center. Wood hit his second solo homer in the eighth.
Guerrero grounded into his major league-leading 27th double play, breaking the club record set by Lyman Bostock in 1978. … The Angels improved to 13-4 in their last 17 home games against the Yankees. … Angels RHP Jered Weaver was scratched from Tuesday’s start because of cuts on the middle and ring fingers of his pinching hand. He’ll be replaced by Ervin Santana (15-5), who was set to close out the series Wednesday. Scioscia said the earliest Weaver could return is Thursday. … Derek Jeter went 0-for-3 with a walk and remained tied with Babe Ruth for second on the Yankees’ career hit list with 2,518. … Yankees team co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner said Girardi will return for his second season as manager next year.