ANAHEIM -- Albert Pujols hit two home runs and Daniel Robertson executed a safety squeeze with the game tied in Monday's eighth inning, plating Erick Aybar and leading the Angels to a thrilling 4-3 win over the first-place Astros in Southern California.
Aybar led off the eighth with a single, then moved to second on a wild pitch and stole third base off lefty reliever Joe Thatcher. After pinch-hitter Matt Joyce drew a one-out walk, Robertson bunted to Astros first baseman Chris Carter, whose flip home went awry, giving the Angels their second and final lead of the game.
"That's as close to a defenseless play as you can get," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I can put the first baseman at the 45-foot line and have him sit there and let him steal second. If they execute the play like that, that's manufacturing a run, and they did. That's how they won the game."
Pujols gave the Angels a 2-1 lead with a two-run shot off an otherwise effective Brett Oberholtzer in the fifth inning, and he made it a two-run game with a solo shot off Josh Fields in the seventh, giving Pujols an American League-leading 23 home runs on the year and 12 this month.
The Astros then tied it off Joe Smith in the eighth, getting an RBI single from Jason Castro and a two-out ground-rule double by Jose Altuve, who missed seven of his previous nine games with a strained right hamstring. But Huston Street finished the inning, then recorded the final three outs in the ninth to earn the win.
With that, the Angels trimmed their AL West deficit of the Astros to 4 1/2 games.
"It's nice to see us manufacture a run at the end, get the whole team into it, especially after I blew it," Smith said. "It's a good feeling. That's what we're going to have to continue to do."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Small ball: On second base with one out, Aybar got a big jump off Thatcher's complex, herky-jerky delivery and put himself on third, setting up Roberton's game-winning bunt. Robertson fouled off his first attempt, then executed a perfect safety squeeze on a 2-1 count. It was his second career go-ahead RBI, with both of them coming against the Astros (also July 9, 2014, while with the Rangers).
"It's just getting the bunt down in the first place," Robertson said. "If I get it down, we've got a chance. It's going to first, I got lucky." More >
Hot Albert: Pujols pounced on fastballs from Oberholtzer and Fields, giving him 15 home runs over his last 24 games and prompting the 24,153 in attendance to chant his name. Since May 28, the Angels' first baseman has batted .352 with four strikeouts in 100 plate appearances. The Angels have scored 108 runs in that stretch, and he and Mike Trout have driven in or scored all but 21 of them. More >
Altuve returns with vigor: The Astros dipped into their late-innings bag of tricks in the eighth when they rallied to tie the game on an RBI single by Castro and a two-run ground-rule double by Altuve that capped a nine-pitch at-bat and made it 3-3. Altuve had missed the previous four games and seven of the previous nine with a strained hamstring, and he was 0-for-3 before getting the game-tying hit.
"The thing I worry about the most about coming back after a layoff is strike-zone judgment, and he looked a little antsy early trying to swing at a lot of pitchers' pitches," Hinch said. "With the game on the line, I trust him as much as anybody to put a good at-bat together." More >
Santiago cruising:Hector Santiago didn't get the win, but he was solid once again, giving up only a Domingo Santana home run in six innings of two-hit, one-run ball. The Angels' left-hander got help from Kole Calhoun, who ranged to the short fence down the right-field line and took away a two-run homer from George Springer in the third. Santiago's ERA is now 2.68, seventh-lowest among AL starters. More >
"I don't care if you guys talk about me or not. I'm not here to try to please you guys [media]. First of all, I'm here to try to please God, and the fans and my family. Whatever you want to talk about me, whether it's good or bad, that's not my main focus. As long as I come out here and get myself ready to play, that's all I care about. The media can put you way on top, and the next day you're struggling and they bring you down. I've been in that situation before." -- Pujols, on being in the conversation again
"Pujols had a big night. We neutralized Trout a little bit, which is hard to do, but Pujols picked him up with some home runs." -- Hinch
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Hinch successfully challenged a safe call in the second inning after Pujols advanced on a pitch that skipped away from Astros catcher Castro. Pujols beat Altuve's tag while sliding into second base, but replay showed Pujols' leg came off the base while the tag was still on him, and the call was overturned.
WHAT'S NEXT Astros: Right-hander Collin McHugh (7-3, 5.04 ERA) will seek his second consecutive quality start when he faces the Angels at 9:05 p.m. CT on Tuesday. Over the last four months of regular-season play, he is 14-3 with a 3.62 ERA in 24 starts. The Astros are 17-7 in those starts..
Angels: Lefty C.J. Wilson (5-5, 3.39 ERA) takes the ball in the second of a three-game series looking to build on a dominant previous two starts that saw him give up just one run in a combined 15 innings against the A's and D-backs. Wilson had a 7.33 ERA in five starts against the Astros last season.