HOUSTON -- Jason Castro, who came into his ninth-inning at-bat with six hits with runners in scoring position this season, blasted a three-run walk-off home run to complete the Astros' sweep of the Angels with a 3-0 win Thursday night, giving Houston a two-game lead in the American League West.
Castro turned on Fernando Salas' 1-2 pitch to dispatch it into the right-field seats for the Astros' second walk-off home run of the season. Salas entered the game with two outs in relief of Jose Alvarez and surrendered a single to Marwin Gonzalez before Castro ended the game.
"It felt great," Castro said of his trot around the bases. "Toward the end of the game, as we started getting deeper, you kind of actually realized how many people were here. In some big spots, we got some guys out and you could really hear and feel the intensity in there. It was great to have that back here in Houston."
Scott Kazmir and Matt Shoemaker engaged in a pitchers' duel before the late-inning heroics. Kazmir's start was his first for his new club in his hometown, and he left in the eighth inning to a rousing ovation from a boisterous Minute Maid Park crowd of 27,598.
"Seeing friends down the line holding up signs and stuff like that, and I know my parents were in the building, a lot of friends and family, it was a lot of fun," Kazmir said. "The crowd was in the game pretty much the entire time, and made for a really exciting game. That felt great. I felt the love, for sure."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Back in the Heart of Texas: In the Houston native's first start back home, Kazmir extended his scoreless-innings streak to 14 2/3 innings to open his Astros career, punctuating his outing with a 94-mph, check-swing fastball to fan Kole Calhoun with two in scoring position for a pivotal second out of the eighth inning before Pat Neshek struck out Mike Trout to strand the runners. Kazmir has now thrown seven or more innings in six of his last seven starts, didn't allow a runner past first base until the eighth inning and has a 0.26 ERA in July.
"I've been feeling great form pitch one," Kazmir said of his torrid July. "It feels like I'm able to work both sides of the plate and expand the zone. That was the key for me this whole month, pretty much this whole year, especially this month, just being able to use all my pitches and being able to have a feel for them in any count. That's been the key." More >
Making his case: Shoemaker seems like the ideal candidate to pitch out of the bullpen once Jered Weaver -- who made a rehab start on Thursday -- returns from the disabled list. But Shoemaker made yet another strong case for himself, retiring his last 11 batters while giving up just three hits and one walk in seven scoreless innings. Shoemaker, who struck out seven and threw 100 pitches, has a 2.01 ERA in his last 31 1/3 innings.
"Really great," Shoemaker said when asked how he's feeling. "There's not really much else to say, but let's keep it going." More >
Let's Try Again, Luke: After surrendering Albert Pujols' 30th homer of the season in the ninth inning on Wednesday, Houston closer Luke Gregerson was summoned to face the slugger again in Thursday's ninth inning. He fanned Pujols on three pitches, the third a pitch buried in the dirt that had Pujols waving across the plate. Gregerson, who gave up four hits and two runs in Wednesday's ninth inning, easily retired Erick Aybar and C.J. Cron to end his perfect ninth Thursday.
"Last night was obviously a different scenario, different mindset," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. "I had no doubt Luke was going to be able to make his pitches. I thought the first-pitch strikes tonight for him was very key. To me, Luke Gregerson is a very good Major League reliever. He's got a short memory after last night, and he shows why we hand him the ball in the most important times."
High heat: The Astros opted to pitch to Trout, with two on, two outs, first base open and Pujols on deck in the eighth. And Trout didn't make them pay. Trout, who missed the last two games while nursing a sore left wrist, got behind in the count, 0-2, then hit a check-swing foul ball, took a couple of pitches outside and swung through a rising fastball to end the threat. Trout went 0-for-3 with a walk in his return.
"He threw a good pitch; I just missed it," Trout said of Neshek. "It was definitely a key situation, and we fell short tonight."
"This has been a fun run so far to get to this point. You can downplay it only so much. The resilience of this team and the methodical continuation of how we approach our games each day is really fun to be a part of. They're loose, they're having fun, they understand the moments, the moments aren't too big for them. We really respond to both success and adversity." -- Hinch, on his team's surprising season
"The [fans] were ready to jump off a bridge in April. We have have a really good team. The [fans are] emotionally invested, they want us to be in first place, they want us to win  games. That's not the case. We're gonna ride the ups and downs. We're going to oscillate -- some good games, some bad games. We hope by the end of the season we have more good games than bad." -- Angels catcher Chris Iannetta, on the fans' reaction to how this series went
Angels manager Mike Scioscia opted to keep Salas, a right-hander, in the game to pitch to the left-handed-hitting Castro, rather than turn to lefty Cesar Ramos. Castro has only a .567 OPS against lefties this year and Hank Conger, who would potentially pinch-hit, has a .556 OPS against lefties. But Scioscia didn't want to burn three relievers in one inning, with Joe Smith having already pitched and Huston Street only available if the Angels took the lead.
"We didn't have as many chips to play tonight," Scioscia said. "We had a lot of confidence in Fernando. He's been really throwing the ball well of late. He missed with one spot."
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In his first three starts against the Angels since being traded by the club, Kazmir gave up 18 runs in 7 1/3 innings. In his last two, one while with the A's, he's allowed just one run in 15 innings.
Shoemaker is the first Angels pitcher with back-to-back scoreless starts of at least six innings since he did it himself three straight times at the end of August 2014.
Hinch used a challenge to open the home half of the eighth inning after Jake Marisnick sped down the line on a grounder that was bobbled by Aybar. Marisnick was originally called out by first-base umpire Chad Fairchild, but the call was overturned and was ruled an error on Aybar. It went for naught as Marisnick was out on the front end of Jose Altuve's ensuing 1-6-3 double play a batter later.
WHAT'S NEXT Angels: The Angels start a three-game weekend series against the crosstown Dodgers on Friday, with Hector Santiago going up against Clayton Kershaw at 7:10 p.m. PT at Dodger Stadium. Santiago (7-4, 2.43 ERA) has a 4.05 ERA in 6 2/3 career innings against the Dodgers. Kershaw (8-6, 2.51 ERA) has a 3.76 ERA in 40 2/3 career innings against the Angels.
Astros:Following a season-long 7 2/3-inning stint in his last start, Scott Feldman makes his third start since being activated from the disabled list when he welcomes the D-backs to Minute Maid Park for the opener of a three-game set at 7:10 p.m. CT on Friday. Feldman scattered four hits and one run in the outing, but got a no-decision in the Astros' 2-1 loss to Kansas City.