Lance McCullers, Jr. pitched 7 innings of one run baseball, struck out five Angels and didn't walk any. He lacked truly dominant stuff but was still very sharp, stranding every runner he allowed to reach base except for one, the lone run he allowed in the second inning on back to back extra base hits.
His opponent, Garrett Richards, was electric until the 5th inning, when he gave up the first Astros hit - a Luis Valbuena double off the scoreboard in left field. Valbuena would advance to third on a passed ball and score on a Colby Rasmus sacrifice fly to tie the game at one. Hank Conger would then single with a hard line drive through the shift into right field and Jake Marisnick followed with a double to left field to set up Jose Altuve's go-ahead RBI infield single, advancing Marisnick to third. That was followed with a bit of a head scratching play on the basepaths as, with Preston Tucker batting and two outs, Altuve attempted a steal on the first pitch and stopped a few feet short of second base in a re-hashing of a play on the bases last night that resulted in two runs. Tonight, however, the Angels were ready and went home, beating a streaking Jake Marisnick to the plate and ultimately retiring him in a run down for the third out of the inning. Jose Altuve would get his redemption, though. More on that in a minute.
Leading off the bottom of the sixth, Preston Tucker - who had been stranded at bat to end the previous inning - led off with a solo home run to push the score to 3-1, and in the next inning, Jon Singleton would add his first Major League home run of the 2015 season to make it a three run lead.
Remember when we discussed Jose Altuve's redemption?
To lead off the top of the 7th inning, he made an outstanding defensive play on a C.J. Cron bouncer up the middle. Take a look for yourself, courtesy of the Astros.com video archives:
In the eighth inning, the Astros would load the bases after back to back singles from Evan Gattis and Luis Valbuena and a walk to Colby Rasmus against left handed reliever Jose Alvarez. Hank Conger then drove in Gattis with a sacrifice fly to left field, and Jon Singleton followed with a seeing-eye single to center field against the lefty to drive in his second run of the game and put the Astros up by a score of 6-1.
Luke Gregerson entered in the top of the ninth inning not having pitched in a game since notching the save in Friday's game against the Royals and in need of work. It has been noted many times that closers rarely enjoy or thrive in non-save situations, and so it wasn't difficult to predict a leadoff home run for Albert Pujols (his 30th on the season, second in all of baseball behind teammate Mike Trout's 31) and his Astro-killing bat. However, it was surprising to see what followed - an infield single by new Angel David Murphy, a bunt single for Erick Aybar, a Conor Gillaspie fielder's choice to advance Murphy to third and then an RBI single off the bat of Johnny Giavotella to narrow the score gap to three runs. However, Gregerson was able to shut the door after that, inducing a game-ending fly out to Preston Tucker in left field.
The Astros will go for the sweep tomorrow, as Scott Kazmir will make his first home start for the Astros opposite Matt Shoemaker for the Angels.
No Astros fan needs reminding of Albert Pujols' dominance against the Astros in his career, but his home run tonight was his 49th career home run versus the Astros. It was also the 30th of the season for him, and that commands respect from any lover of baseball, regardless of team allegiance, because it marks his thirteenth 30 home run season...in fifteen career seasons. It tied him with Mike Schmidt and Babe Ruth all-time in 30 home run seasons in a career, and he trails only Alex Rodriguez (fourteen, and likely on his way to a fifteenth this year), Barry Bonds (fourteen) and Hank Aaron (fifteen) all time in that regard. The young fan who caught tonight's home run threw the ball back, but considering whose bat it came off of, this might be a rare instance when one should consider bucking that particular tradition and pocketing a very meaningful, valuable souvenir.
Last, but in no way least, the Astros once again moved into sole possession of first place in the AL West tonight after beating the Angels. Tune into the game tomorrow to watch the Astros try to lengthen their renewed division lead!