Qualls comes through in pressure situation

Astros reliever walks Trout intentionally, then gets Pujols for last out

Qualls comes through in pressure situation

ANAHEIM -- With Mike Trout at the plate in the ninth inning of a one-run game and representing the winning run, Astros manager A.J. Hinch didn't flinch. He wasn't going to let Trout beat him and would instead take his chances with Albert Pujols.

Pujols, whose 46 career homers against Houston are tied for the most against the team all-time, grounded into a game-ending fielder's choice, proving Hinch's intuition was spot on and securing the Astros' 6-5 win at Angel Stadium on Saturday night.

"The last three outs are hard to get," Hinch said.

Astros pitcher Chad Qualls, filling in as closer in the absence of Luke Gregerson, got two outs to start the ninth with a 6-4 lead. Collin Cowgill followed with a dribbler toward third base for an infield hit, and Kole Calhoun doubled into the left-field corner to make it 6-5.

"I had to start like that," Quall said.

Hinch came out from the dugout to talk to Qualls and had already made up his mind to walk Trout, who was 3-for-4 with a homer, even if he did represent the winning run.

"Trout is one of the most dangerous hitters in the league, so I'm going to be very careful," Hinch said. "That's why I ran out there. I wanted to get a little bit of a pulse of what's going on and let him know what I was doing and why we're doing it and how much conviction I had of him getting the next guy out, and Qualls did it. I'm proud of these guys."

Qualls and Pujols are very familiar with each other and have gone head to head for 10 years, since Qualls broke in with the Astros and Pujols was in St. Louis. In fact, Qualls has faced Pujols 30 times in their careers, which are the most plate appearances by any hitter against Qualls. Pujols is 9-for-28 against him with three homers.

"It's never fun facing him, especially in that type of situation," Qualls said. "He's gotten a lot of big hits in a lot of big situations. I just tried to make my pitches and keep the ball down and hope he hits them right at somebody. I got my patent ground ball right at the shortstop."

Qualls had no qualms about walking Trout.

"I faced him once early and he hit a homer in Houston off me," he said. "It's obviously a smart play. I know you're putting the winning run on base, but at the same time he's the league MVP. You have a lot of respect for Trout there. I think it's the right play to go after Albert, and we got him to hit a ground ball and got out of there with a win."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.