The Angels could have wilted without the presence of their most intimidating hitter in the lineup. But for the second consecutive night playing without Mike Trout as he recovers from a minor calf injury, the Angels rolled to a victory over the rival Houston Astros, 7-2 on Tuesday.
The win lifted the Angels (50-46) to four games above .500 for the first time since June 24, 2018. For a team seeking its first playoff berth in four years, a mid-July win that guarantees at least a series split with the American League West-leading Astros does not inspire grandiose visions of October. Not when second place in the wild-card standings is still 4-1/2 games away. Not when the pitching staff still owns an earned-run average of 4.82, the 10th-highest in the majors.
But when a Trout-less offense can collect four fewer hits than the Astros’ 13 and still outscore them by five, a sense of calm sets in.
“That’s exactly what we need to do to get to where we need to be,” said outfielder Brian Goodwin, who had two hits and scored in his return from the injured list. “We need to continue to play these guys tough.”
The Angels exacted the bulk of their damage in a first inning that, between the sides, took 37 minutes to complete. David Fletcher led off the Angels’ half poking a double to the warning track in right field; he came back to the plate 20 minutes later to end the inning with a flyout.
In between, Astros opener Hector Rondon allowed five Angels to reach without recording an out. Andrelton Simmons bopped a single to right. Shohei Ohtani, whose 2018 rookie of the year campaign was celebrated with a giveaway bobblehead of him swinging, tapped a ball to the left side of the infield that pulled shortstop Alex Bregman toward third base. By the time Bregman rid himself of the ball, Ohtani had crossed first safely for an infield single that drove in Fletcher.
Rondon walked Justin Upton and hit Kole Calhoun with the bases loaded, then Astros nemesis Albert Pujols knocked a double down the first base line to clear the bases. Rookie Luis Rengifo followed Pujols’ hit, which increased the veteran’s career RBI total against the Astros to 163, with a ball that skittered past a diving Jake Marisnick in center to the warning track for an RBI triple and a 6-0 lead.
In Marisnick’s first game facing the Angels since colliding with catcher Jonathan Lucroy nine days ago, leaving him with a concussion and broken nose, he felt the furor of Angel Stadium denizens all night. Boos rained down on him in pregame introductions and on every defensive play and plate appearance.
The fans were rewarded when Angels reliever Noe Ramirez plunked Marisnick between the shoulders to start the sixth inning.
“I was just trying to sneak a fastball by him,” Ramirez said. “I threw two sliders away. I think the scouting report on me is I might sneak a fastball in there after a couple off-speed pitches. I tried to sneak one by him in, and it just got away from me.”
Manager Brad Ausmus said it was tough to say there was intent on Ramirez’s part when his first pitch to Marisnick was a called strike.
“I know it looks awful but I think the first pitch was a strike,” he said. “So if he swings at it and hits it, we’re not even talking about it.”
Marisnick took his base calmly. Tempers spilled over when Lance McCullers Jr. began chirping from his seat in the Astros dugout. A peeved Pujols approached the railing, index finger wagging, and yelled back. Marisnick waved his teammates off to no avail. Both bullpens emptied, then the nearby benches.
The disruption proved inconsequential. Marisnick advanced to third but never scored.
The same could be said for most of Houston’s runners. Angels pitchers contained the Astros offense for a second consecutive night, stranding 14 of those who reached base. Starter Andrew Heaney and reliever Trevor Cahill induced double-play ground balls to escape jams in the third and eighth innings, respectively.
Heaney was effective but labored. He allowed the leadoff man to reach in every inning he worked and faced multiple baserunners in all of his five innings. But Heaney did not crumble, despite needing 103 pitches to get through 4-1/3 innings. Only two runs scored, on singles from Tyler White.
The effectiveness of the Angels staff continued a recent trend: Opponents have not scored more than three runs in four of the five games they’ve played since the All-Star break. In each of those five games, the Angels have scored at least six runs.
“We’re executing, and talking about how we’re going to approach the guys,” Pujols said. “We’ve been doing that for the last couple weeks. It’s been successful taking good at-bats, starting at the top with Fletch, down to the bottom of the lineup with [Kevan Smith] and Rengifo.”