Heaney’s second pitch of the game, a 92.5-mph fastball to Texas leadoff man Leody Taveras, was hit for a 404-foot home run to center field. His sixth pitch, an 85.3-mph changeup to Nick Solak, was lined to center for a single.
Heaney’s seventh pitch, a 92.4-mph fastball to Isiah Kiner-Falefa, was rifled at 103 mph to center fielder Mike Trout for an out. And his eighth, a 92.1-mph fastball to Rougned Odor, was crushed 434 feet to right field for a two-run homer.
“They made it pretty obvious in the first inning they were hunting heaters, and I didn’t do a good job of locating a few,” Heaney said. “Walking off the field after the first, me and [catcher Max] Stassi talked about a few things. We had to change up how I pitched based on the way they were approaching the game.”
Heaney had been encouraged by Angels manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Mickey Callaway in August to lean more heavily on his fastball, a shift that helped Heaney go 3-1 with a 2.36 ERA in his previous four starts in which he struck out 28 and walked five in 26-2/3 innings.
But after being ambushed by the Rangers early Saturday night, Heaney flipped the script, throwing almost twice as many off-speed pitches (45 curveballs and 20 changeups) as four-seam fastballs (38).
The quick adjustment helped Heaney blank the Rangers on three hits over the next 6-1/3 innings in which he struck out eight and walked one, and the Angels came back for a 4-3 victory in Angel Stadium.
“A lot of guys cave in those situations, but he did not,” Maddon said. “Game in progress, he kind of reinvented himself on the fly. He went away from the predominant fastball usage. I thought the curve was much better tonight. The changeup was really good. He made the adjustment. The game can get too quick and he slowed it down. That was spectacular to watch.”
Heaney went 6-2/3 innings, allowing three earned runs and six hits, striking out eight and walking one. Of his 103 pitches, 73 were strikes. He induced seven swinging strikes with his curve, six with his changeup and four with his fastball.
With two on and one out in the third, Heaney got Odor to ground out to first on a curve and struck out Sherten Apostel with an 81.6-mph curve. Two of his three strikeouts in the sixth ended with curveballs.
“That’s been something I’ve been fighting all year,” Heaney said of his struggles with the curve. “I haven’t really been comfortable with it. It’s hit or miss. There are some nights when it’s kind of there, but I don’t have a great feel for it.
“Tonight, I was able to land it for strikes, backdoor it early, and I felt comfortable throwing it down in the zone. I only made a few mistakes with it. When you get team like that that will hit some fastballs, you have to be able to spin your breaking ball in there. I needed it tonight and put an emphasis on it tonight.”
Heaney departed with two outs in the seventh and did not get the win. Noe Ramirez got Kiner-Falefa to fly to the warning track in center with a runner on second to end the inning, and Mike Mayers retired the side in order in the eighth and ninth for his first save.
Shohei Ohtani hit a solo homer to right in the second and singled and scored on Taylor Ward’s double in the fifth. David Fletcher’s two-out RBI single to center in the fifth made it 3-3, and Mike Trout’s RBI single in the eighth made it 4-3.
The Angels, who have won 11 of 16 games, kept their slim playoff hopes alive by remaining 3½ games behind Houston with seven games to play.
“We gotta win out,” Heaney said. “We gotta win every game, and that’s how everybody feels.”
They won Saturday night because Heaney did not crumble after his rocky start.
“I don’t care how many runs I give up in the first inning, I’m not gonna give up on a game,” Heaney said. “Whether I give up one, three, five, six, I’m not gonna give up. I’m gonna go out there and try to put up zeros. I don’t think it really changes my mentality.”