- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - After scoring twice to tie the game in the eighth inning, the Houston Astros gave the lead right back in the bottom half on a do-or-die play that first baseman Chris Carter couldn’t pull off.

Erick Aybar scored the go-ahead run on a safety squeeze by Daniel Robertson, and the Astros absorbed a 4-3 loss Monday night to the Los Angeles Angels that included two very loud home runs by Albert Pujols.

Aybar began the winning rally with a leadoff single against Chad Qualls (1-4) and advanced on a wild pitch. One out later, Joe Thatcher walked pinch-hitter Matt Joyce while Aybar stole third.

In came Will Harris, and Robertson bunted up the first base line. Carter charged the ball and made an errant, backhand flip past catcher Jason Castro as Aybar crossed the plate.

“That’s as close to a defenseless play as you can have,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “I mean, I can put the first baseman at the 45-foot line and have him sit there and let the guy steal second. It was going to have to be a hard bunt for him to be able to make that play. If they execute the play like that, that’s manufacturing a run. And they did. That’s how they won the game.”

Pujols, who won two Gold Gloves at first base with the St. Louis Cardinals, acknowledged the degree of difficulty Carter was faced with.

“It’s a hard play to defend,” Pujols said. “You can’t break too soon from the bag because the guy from first could steal, and it’s a safety squeeze. Obviously, it worked out perfect for us.”

The Angels (36-35) moved within 4 1/2 games of the AL West leaders. Texas is three games behind the Astros, who have dropped three of four after winning five straight.

“Those are the guys we’re chasing, so this is a big series. And to be able to win the first game is huge,” Pujols said. “I thought it was going to get away from us, but we just never gave up. Erick had a big at-bat and got on base, and we were able to execute on the bunt.”

The Astros were held to two hits by left-hander Hector Santiago through the first six innings, including rookie Domingo Santana’s leadoff homer in the third. Houston tied it with an RBI single by Castro and a run-scoring double by Jose Altuve against Joe Smith.

Altuve, the All-Star second baseman and batting champion, was 1 for 3 after missing the previous four games because of a right hamstring strain. In the third inning, he sent a towering fly to the short fence in the right-field corner, where Kole Calhoun reached over and easily took a home run away from him.

“The thing I worry about most with a guy coming back after a layoff is strike-zone judgment. But he battled, and it was good to see,” Hinch said. “I mean, he looked a little antsy early on, trying to swing at a lot of pitcher’s pitches. But with the game on the line, I trust him as much as anybody to put a good at-bat together.”

Astros lefty Brett Oberholtzer allowed two runs, four hits and four walks in his sixth start of a season that has been detoured twice by blisters on his index finger. He escaped a bases-loaded jam in the second after striking out the side on 16 pitches in the first.

“I thought Obie battled,” Hinch said. “He did a good job of escaping some danger after four free passes and a hit by pitch.”

Pujols gave the Angels a 2-1 lead in the fifth, driving a 1-2 pitch into the rock pile just to the right of the center-field trees after a two-out walk to Mike Trout - who struck out three times. It was the first homer allowed this season by Oberholtzer in 28 innings to that point.

Pujols hit another two-out homer in the seventh off righty Josh Fields, raising his season total to 23 and his career mark to 543 - five behind Mike Schmidt for 15th place.

“When Pujols is driving the ball out to the middle part of the field, he’s pretty locked in,” Hinch said. “Both pitches were hittable pitches for him, obviously. I’m not sure there’s an unhittable pitch when he’s hot like this.”

Pujols has 15 homers in his last 24 games. His 50th career multihomer game raised his career total against Houston to 48, breaking a tie with Hank Aaron for the most by any player against Astros pitching.

Huston Street (3-2) struck out Evan Gattis to end the eighth and then pitched a perfect ninth.

UP NEXT

Astros: RHP Collin McHugh (7-3) is 14-3 with a 3.62 ERA over his last 24 starts after losing each of his previous six.

Angels: LHP C.J. Wilson (5-5) has allowed one run over 15 innings with 17 strikeouts in his last two starts - a 1-0 home win against Oakland and a 7-1 decision at Arizona.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide