HOUSTON -- Mike Trout and Albert Pujols hit back-to-back home runs in the first inning off Astros starter Lance McCullers, and the Angels held off a pair of late rallies to beat the Astros, 4-3, on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.
"Tonight was a huge game for us," Angels starter Hector Santiago said. "Every game going forward is a big game."
Trout launched his career-high 40th homer of the season with one out in the first to score Erick Aybar, and Pujols followed with a tape-measure blast -- the 50th of his career in the regular season against the Astros -- to put the Angels ahead, 3-0.
Santiago (9-9) gave up back-to-back homers to Marwin Gonzalez and Chris Carter in the second -- the only runs he allowed in five-plus innings before being taken out after issuing a leadoff walk in the sixth. He was then tossed for arguing with home-plate umpire Chris Conroy.
With the win, the Angels moved to within 2 1/2 games of the Astros for the second American League Wild Card spot. The Twins won to move two games behind the Astros, who trail the Rangers by two games for the lead in the AL West.
"We left a lot of guys on base, but we fought our tails off to be in a position to get a big hit and [have] someone go home a hero, but I'll take that complete and competitive effort and get to tomorrow and try to win the series," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.
With two outs in the ninth, Angels closer Huston Street gave up a 433-foot double, per Statcast™, to Carlos Correa off the center-field wall, then intentionally walked Jed Lowrie, who hit the winning home run against him on Sept. 13. The next batter, Evan Gattis, struck out swinging.
"It's just one of those great baseball games, where you have both managers making a lot of moves," Street said after a 32-pitch effort. "For me, it's just executing pitches. I really only missed with two pitches. Thankfully, they haven't moved center field. That ball was hit a ways, but it's just a double."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED This is 40: Trout turned on a first-pitch 94-mph fastball from McCullers in the first inning and hit it off one of the advertisements in left-center field, giving him 40 home runs for the first time in his career. The only other Angels player to amass 40 homers is former third baseman Troy Glaus, who hit 47 in 2000 and 41 in '01. Trout now has 138 career home runs, the most ever by a center fielder through his age-23 season. More >
"It's obviously special," Trout said of reaching 40. "Coming into the season, I thought it would be pretty special, pretty cool, and it happened."
McCullers shakes off homers: McCullers (5-7) pitched well in defeat, allowing only one hit to the Angels after the back-to-back home runs by Trout and Pujols. The rookie threw seven innings and struck out nine batters without allowing any walks, but the homers proved to be his downfall. He threw a career-high 111 pitches. More >
"We're doing what we can to kind of scrap and claw and do what we can to get runs across the plate, but maybe I need to do a little better job of not letting so many runs across," McCullers said. "I won't have to worry about needing overwhelming run support."
Piecing it together: With Santiago only recording 15 outs and setup man Joe Smith unavailable because of a sprained left ankle, Angels manager Mike Scioscia had to get creative in the eighth. Seventh-inning man Trevor Gott recorded his fourth out and left with two on, lefty Jose Alvarez retired Matt Duffy on a fielder's-choice groundout and Street came in for a four-out save, immediately allowing a run on a wild pitch but stranding two runners by striking out Jake Marisnick before pitching a scoreless ninth.
"When there's an opportunity to get four outs from some of those guys, we're going to have to use it, especially now trying to bridge the gap with Joe out," Scioscia said. "If our starters do what they did tonight, where Hector just went five-plus, that's 12 outs we're trying to get with three guys right now. So we saw Jose Alvarez getting into the mix, you're going to see Cesar Ramos, Wesley Wright, Mike Morin, [Cam] Bedrosian. All of these guys are going to have to feed into that."
Empty in the clutch: The Astros stranded 11 runners on base and were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. They stranded runners at first and second in both the eighth and ninth innings, with Street striking out Marisnick in the eighth and Gattis to end the game. More >
"We had our guys up in the ninth," Hinch said. "You go into this game, you feel it's going to be close. It's two really close teams. We duke it out for nine innings. We've got the best part of our order up to bat against their closer. It was pretty electric at the end. We just had one tick short."
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Pujols' first-inning homer was the 556th of his career, passing countryman Manny Ramirez for 14th on the all-time list. It left his bat at 110 mph, per Statcast™, making it the third-hardest home run he's hit this season.
With two homers on Tuesday, the Astros have 209 this season, which ranks as the second most in club history. The 2000 Astros hit 249 in their first year in Minute Maid Park.
Shortly after getting pulled with one on and none out in the sixth, Santiago was ejected for the first time in his career. The 27-year-old left-hander apparently said something to Conroy after a leadoff walk to Gonzalez. Before reaching the dugout, Santiago walked over to Conroy for an explanation.
"I just asked him where a few pitches were and then that's it," Santiago said. "I guess he just took a few questions and it kind of went the wrong way, got a little heated and things got a little out of hand. But I was just trying to figure out where a few pitches were that I thought could have been strikes."
WHAT'S NEXT Angels:Nick Tropeano (2-2, 5.06 ERA) takes the ball for Wednesday's 11:10 a.m. PT series finale. The 25-year-old right-hander will be making his sixth start because the Angels played a doubleheader on Saturday, prompting the need for a sixth starter. Tropeano was a fifth-round Draft pick by the Astros in 2011 and went to the Angels, along with catcher Carlos Perez, in the November deal for Hank Conger.
Astros:Mike Fiers (7-10, 3.64 ERA) gets the start for the Astros in the series finale against the Angels at Minute Maid Park at 1:10 p.m. CT. In seven starts since being acquired from the Brewers, Fiers is 2-1 with a 2.20 ERA, including a no-hitter against the Dodgers.