Astros fall short in see-saw finale with Angels

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“We’ve got seven games left to win as many games as we can,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “We set out this season to win the division. Checkmark that box in September. I said we’re going to continue to compete and play and win as many games as we can. That’s going to continue. Whatever the total is at the end is great, and then the real season begins in the postseason.”

Upton, Phillips spark offensive resurgence

A two-run homer by Alex Bregman and two-run double by Evan Gattis in the third inning gave the Astros a 4-1 lead — three of the runners who scored reached on walks — but the Angels chipped away with a Brandon Phillips‘ solo homer in the fourth and consecutive bases-loaded walks to Phillips and Andrelton Simmons to tie the game at 4 in the fifth.

Phillips' solo home run

Valbuena’s double gave the Angels a 6-4 lead in the seventh, and George Springer of the Astros (seventh) and Justin Upton of the Angels (eighth) swapped solo homers.

Springer's solo shot to right

“We had good at-bats with the exception of guys in scoring position. We were 2-for-16 with guys in scoring position,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “We had a lot of opportunities. With McCullers, we were patient enough that when he made a mistake we hit it. We hit the ball hard.”

Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr., pitching for only the second time since July 30, allowed two runs and four hits in 3 1/3 innings, leaving after only 63 pitches. Angels starter Tyler Skaggs gave up four runs and six hits in five innings.

Where does McCullers stand for ALDS?

Bad luck for Astros: The Angels loaded the bases in the seventh with the help of some fortunate bounces. Albert Pujols blooped a single down the right-field line that barely landed fair, Phillips reached when Bregman booted a grounder, and Simmons shot a grounder up the middle that glanced off the ankle of reliever Devenski and went for a single. With the bases loaded, Valbuena ripped a two-run double to right to put the Angels ahead, 6-4.

“We didn’t finish the inning the way we normally do, and Valbuena comes up with a big hit,” Hinch said. “Obviously, the ball is barely fair and hard to get to with the defensive alignment we’re in. And then a ball we normally make and could be a double-play ball and would have been the most ideal outcome, and Valbuena with the big at-bat. We lost some big moments today and that’s why we lost the game.”

Valbuena's go-ahead double

Gattis can’t check swing: With the tying run at first base and two outs in the seventh, Gattis was rung up by home-plate umpire Will Little on a check swing for the third out. Astros manager A.J. Hinch was ejected by Little for arguing the call from the dugout, marking the second time in the series Hinch was thrown out.

“There was really no reason to throw me out,” Hinch said. “I didn’t curse at him. I didn’t go over the top. It just ended up being he wins when he’s the boss on the field. A couple of pitches didn’t go our way. Check-swings, you always want the first-base umpire. That’s what he’s there for on that call. I don’t have final say. I was just told to go to my office.”

Hinch's ejection after the 7th

“What’s taking him so long? We’re ready for him to hit that 200-mark.” — joked Hinch on Jose Altuve, who went 2-for-2 and is two hits shy of his fourth consecutive 200-hit season

The win was the Angels’ 45th comeback win of the season, which ties the Dodgers for the most in the Majors and is two shy of the club record of 47 in ’09.

Altuve’s bunt single in the fifth inning had him going home to first in 3.33 seconds, according to Statcast™ (the time starts at moment of contact and Altuve was already in motion towards first). Still, the 3.33 seconds is the fastest home-to-first time recorded since Statcast™ started tracking in 2015. (The next-fastest overall is 3.42 seconds by Adam Eaton on Aug. 23, 2016, and the next-fastest this season is 3.43 seconds by Rougned Odor on Aug. 14.).

Statcast: Altuve's bunt single

Angels: The club begins a crucial four-game series in Chicago starting Monday. The Angels pretty much need to sweep the White Sox to stay in the race for the second Wild Card spot. Right-hander Ricky Nolasco (6-14, 5.06 ERA) has not faced the White Sox this season and is 1-4 in his career against them. He will oppose right-hander James Shields (4-7, 5.40).

Astros: Collin McHugh makes his 11th start of the season for the AL West Division champions, who begin a three-game series at Texas beginning at 7:05 p.m. CT Monday. In his only appearance against the Rangers this year, McHugh (3-2, 3.44), got a no-decision. Right-hander Andrew Cashner (10-10, 3.44) will start for the Rangers.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Richard Dean is a contributor to and covered the Angels on Sunday.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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