Margin of error is slim as Astros chase pennant

Margin of error is slim as Astros chase pennant

ANAHEIM -- This is the time of year when every play, every pitch is magnified, and the Astros were reminded of that in Saturday night's 3-2 loss to the Angels at Angel Stadium.

A double by Angels shortstop Erick Aybar in the second inning was nearly foul, Hank Conger just missed homers in his first two-bats before finally connecting on a game-tying shot in the seventh and reliever Will Harris hit his spot with an eighth-inning fastball and still gave up a game-winning homer to C.J. Cron.

Welcome to a pennant race, where nothing comes easy.

"What? Mid-September, playoff push, close race?" Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I think that check marks all the boxes."

Harris, the reliever who came out of nowhere to become a key member of the bullpen this year, nearly gave up a home run to Kole Calhoun to start the seventh, finishing the inning having thrown only 11 pitches. He came back out for the eighth and allowed Cron to put the Angels ahead, 3-2, with a solo homer.

"I couldn't really get away with any mistakes tonight," said Harris, who has allowed only 10 runs in 63 1/3 innings this year. "They were pretty locked in, so I didn't think that was all that bad of a pitch to Cron. He put a good swing on it and won the game for his team."

Hinch said he'll take his chances with Harris at any time.

"He threw 11 pitches, and he's one of the best relievers we have," he said. "Even how he finished the rest of the inning, he had good stuff. He had plenty of action. The one fastball to Cron is the one he's going to think about for the rest of the night. I'll take Will Harris in that situation any day."

Astros starter Lance McCullers didn't have much room for error, either. He allowed a leadoff single to Cron in the second, and then Aybar shot a double to left field that hugged the line. Both Cron and Aybar eventually scored.

And so it goes for the Astros, who have lost four of five games to start their crucial 10-game trip, with three of those losses coming by one run.

"This is just baseball," McCullers said. "I mean, yeah it's a little more under the microscope and we're down the stretch a little bit, but if you try to approach the game different than you've been approaching it for the past 140 days, that's when things are going to go bad. And everyone here is loose, we feel good. We feel like every game we can go out we can win, but it just hasn't been going our way."

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