HOUSTON -- David Freese hit a towering ball off the wall in left-center field off reliever Pat Neshek and wound up with a two-run, two-out go-ahead double in a three-run eighth inning that lifted the Angels to a 6-5 win over the Astros on Wednesday afternoon at Minute Maid Park.
The win moved the Angels to within 1 1/2 games of the Astros for the second American League Wild Card spot. The Twins, who beat the Indians, 4-2, on Wednesday night, are one back of Houston. The Astros trail the first-place Rangers by three games in the AL West ahead of this weekend's crucial series at Minute Maid Park.
Freese's heroics came one inning after Astros outfielder George Springer had hit a two-out, two-run triple in the seventh inning that gave the Astros a 4-3 lead, but Houston's suddenly suspect bullpen couldn't protect the lead.
"They're all tough at this time of year," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We're scratching and clawing trying to find ways to be one up at the end, if not more. We've taken a few body blows this month and we'll respond favorably, we always have. But that doesn't make tonight any easier, but we'll dust ourselves off. We have a big series ahead and we need to play well to win."
Astros starter Mike Fiers gave up three runs in 6 2/3 innings, including a bases-loaded, two-out single by C.J. Cron in the first. Kole Calhoun homered in the fifth to make it 3-0, and the Astros answered against Angels starter Nick Tropeano with two runs in the bottom of the inning on RBIs by Springer and Carlos Correa.
The Astros made it a one-run game in the bottom of the ninth on a two-out RBI single by Correa, but Huston Street got Jed Lowrie -- who hit the game-winning homer against him on Sept. 13 -- to ground out for his 40th save, giving the Angels a much-needed win.
"Were still a game-and-a-half back, so we're not counting anything," said Street, now 20th on the all-time saves list with 315. "But the difference between being a game-and-a-half back and 3 1/2 back is pretty serious."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Deep Freese: Freese came up with the biggest hit of his Angels career with two outs in the top of the eighth, lifting a 2-2 slider from Neshek off the fence in left-center field to plate two runs and give the Angels their second lead. Heading in, opposing right-handed hitters had posted only a .619 OPS against Neshek. Freese is batting .319 since being activated off the disabled list at the start of September. Since then, the Angels have recovered from a 19-loss August with 13 wins in 21 games.
"I was praying that 'The Juice Box' was small enough for it to go off the wall," said Freese, who then watched Carlos Perez add on with a line-drive RBI single to center field. "I clipped it, and it just went far enough out of the reach of Rasmus. It ended up being good for us." More >
Bullpen blows another: The Astros' bullpen, which has a 6.63 ERA in September, couldn't protect a one-run lead in the eighth. Will Harris gave up a pair of runs and continues to struggle, and Neshek's woes continued when he gave up two hits and a run in the decisive frame.
"You definitely feel for the guys who have been there doing it for us all year," Hinch said. "One of the big reasons we're where we're at on the good side of things is the way these guys have pitched." More >
Finding a way: The Angels' bullpen found a way to persevere for a second straight day. On Tuesday night, four relievers combined to give up one run in four innings, with Trevor Gott and Street each recording four outs. On Wednesday afternoon, Angels manager Mike Scioscia used six relievers for 4 2/3 innings, and they held on despite allowing three runs. Mike Morin got the first five outs and Street recorded the final three.
"They're all doing a great job," Scioscia said. "There are maybe some guys down there that aren't household names, but when you work them all in, they come in and make their pitches. It doesn't always work, but they've been asked to take the ball a lot this week on this trip and they've answered the bell, and you can't say enough about them." More >
Springer comes through in clutch: Springer came through with perhaps the biggest hit of his career when he shot a two-out, two-run double into the right-field corner to give the Astros a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning. Springer's knock came after the Angels had intentionally walked leadoff hitter Jose Altuve to get to him.
"That's a situation you have to slow yourself down and not try to do anything that you can't do," said Springer, who has reached base in 23 consecutive games. "Obviously, he's got some good stuff over there and he's our guy, so yeah, I wanted to come up big in that situation."
"He wasn't having that good of a game, but you can never count him out. He's always huge in these situations." -- Albert Pujols, on Freese, who helped him win a World Series with a historic playoff run while with the Cardinals in 2011
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Mike Trout has quietly started to get hot after a slow August. Over his last 11 games, the superstar center fielder is batting .325 (13-for-40) with six home runs, two doubles and five walks.
Hinch unsuccessfully tried to challenge a crucial call that ended his team's at-bat in the fifth inning after scoring twice to cut the lead to 3-2. Correa was called out at second base for the final out of the inning when he tried to steal, but Hinch argued Correa was safe. Replays appeared to show Correa's foot beat the tag, but the original call was ruled to stand.
"I was very surprised," Hinch said. "I thought we had an angle. Our guys were very confident. I thought the one on the board showed that there was a little bit of gap there. I went out later and they said the call stands, which means they didn't really have any definitive evidence to make the overturn."
WHAT'S NEXT Angels: After the final off-day on Thursday, Garrett Richards (14-11, 3.73 ERA) takes the ball for the series opener against the Mariners from Angel Stadium on Friday, with first pitch set for 7:05 p.m. PT. The Mariners will probably start either lefty Vidal Nuno or righty Taijuan Walker, after pushing Felix Hernandez back to Saturday. Richards has a 3.96 ERA in four starts against the Mariners this season.
Astros: The Astros are off Thursday before opening up a huge three-game series against the AL West-leading Rangers at 7:10 p.m. CT on Friday at Minute Maid Park. Left-hander Scott Kazmir will get the start. Since winning his first start with the Astros by throwing seven scoreless innings July 24, Kazmir has gone 1-5 with a 3.70 ERA in 10 starts. In two outings against Texas in that span, he's allowed three earned runs in 12 2/3 innings.