Things didn't start smoothly in the first inning for Lance McCullers in Friday's game but he found his groove for the next seven innings to help the Houston Astros collect a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels at Minute Maid Park.
Yunel Escobar and Kole Calhoun each reach with a single to start the game for the Angels -- putting runners on the corners but Calhoun was quickly at second on a wild pitch. McCullers bounced back with a strikeout of Mike Trout -- his first of three of Trout on the night.
The key play came with Albert Pujols at the plate. Pujols hit a sharp grounder up the third base line. Luis Valbuena fielded it cleanly and instinctually threw home just in time to get Escobar -- preventing a run from scoring. The play carried even more weight as McCullers induced Daniel Nava into a pop out to end the inning.
The Angels would get only four baserunners over the next seven innings off McCullers -- who had his breaking pitches working in top form and the home plate umpire showing a wide zone. Of those four base runners, two turned to double plays. McCullers would strike out 10 over eight-plus innings including giving Trout a hat trick.
The Astros offense attempted to be aggressive on the first pitch against Angels starting pitcher Matt Shoemaker with little success.
Houston didn't break through until newly called up Preston Tucker launched a ball dead center past Trout for a triple. Jason Castro ripped a single past a drawn-in infield to put the Astros up 1-0.
Carlos Gomez helped generate an all-important insurance run in the seventh inning. Gomez dropped a perfect push bunt past the pitching mound for an infield single. He proceeded to steal second and move to third on a groundout to first base.
Gomez appeared to be awarded home on a balk from Shoemaker but the called was changed after a conversation between the umpires. But George Springer made the umpire miscue a mute point with a single to left field to score Gomez easily.
McCullers attempted to go for his second career complete game, already over 100 pitches in the ninth inning. He wasn't successful.McCullers walked Calhoun and Trout to open the inning.
Astros closer Will Harris replaced McCullers. Harris got Pujols with a pop out. The Astros forced Trout at second on a slower grounder from Nava. The Astros were one out away from a win. Andrelton Simmons singled home a run to left field to break the seal on the Angels' scoring. But Harris rebounded with a strikeout of Ji-Man Choi.
The Astros move to 52-44 and just 2.5 games behind the Texas Rangers as they lost 3-1 to the Royals on Friday.