HOUSTON — The longer Josh Hamilton struggled, the deeper the Angels right fielder went into this disappointing season, the more the advice from friends and family members, teammates and coaches, revolved around a central theme:
Just have fun.
"This season of baseball and life in general is so short — don't get caught up in the struggles, just enjoy," Hamilton said. "It's fun when you remember it's a game you played your whole life, since Little League. Nothing has changed inside the lines."
It sure seemed that way Sunday when Hamilton hit what is known as a "Little League home run," a double that, combined with an error, resulted in Hamilton's circling the bases in the decisive two-run eighth inning of a 3-1 victory over the Houston Astros in Minute Maid Park.
C.J. Wilson (8-5) gave up one unearned run and three hits in seven innings, striking out 10 batters, and Mark Trumbo hit his team-leading 18th home run, a solo shot to right field in the fourth inning, to help the Angels complete their first 6-0 trip since Sept. 3-8, 2002, when they swept Tampa Bay and Baltimore.
Though the Angels (39-43) gained only two games on first-place Texas in the American League West on the trip — they're nine games back — they moved to within four games of .500 for the first time since May 30.
"Any time you go on a streak like this, it builds confidence," said Howie Kendrick, who singled and scored in the eighth inning. "We're getting a lot of big hits with runners in scoring position. Josh has had some big hits, and that's huge. He's coming to life, and we need that."
Hamilton was batting .207 when the Angels arrived in Detroit on June 24. With nine hits, including four doubles, in 21 at-bats and four runs batted in on the trip, he raised his average to .223.
Just as important, four of the hits, including three doubles, were driven hard to the opposite field, something that Hamilton, who has 10 home runs and 29 RBIs, did rarely in the first three months and could be a sign he's emerging from his season-long funk. Four walks on the trip could be an indication he's seeing the ball better.
"There's no doubt there's a comfort level you can see starting to form," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "I think he stayed on pitches better today. Josh is important to us, and it's good to see him start swinging the bat better."
Sunday's game was tied, 1-1, when Kendrick led off the eighth inning with a single, his 36th hit of June, which tied his career high for a month. Albert Pujols struck out and Hamilton lined a double to the wall in left-center field.
Kendrick was waved home, and the Astros appeared to have a good shot at him, but shortstop Jake Elmore's relay throw was so wild it caromed off the fence in front of the first base dugout.
Hamilton took third on the throw and, despite stumbling on his way home, scored on the error for a 3-1 lead.
"I got to third, paused to see where the ball was, and when I went to restart my legs, my upper body was going faster than my lower body," Hamilton said. "It was funny."
Kevin Jepsen threw a scoreless eighth inning, striking out Carlos Corporan with two on to end the inning, and Ernesto Frieri closed the ninth for his 21st save, as the Angels exacted revenge on the Astros, who won seven of the first 10 games between the teams this season.
"Those guys have been handing it to us this year," Kendrick said. "It feels good to get some wins off them."
Twitter: @MikeDiGiovannaCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times