Astros close out Halos, magic number at 3

Astros close out Halos, magic number at 3

ANAHEIM -- The Astros continued to close in on the American League West title on Thursday night, defeating the Angels, 5-2, to clinch a series victory at Angel Stadium and trim their magic number to three.

Houston right-hander Brad Peacock allowed one run over six innings and Marwin Gonzalez finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs to help secure a 5-5 road trip for the Astros, who will now head home with a chance to lock up the division crown as early as Saturday.

At long last, Astros heading home

"We won the series against a good team," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch, whose team finished a stretch of 16 of 19 away from home. "And rarely do you go on a trip like we did and lose four in one city and come out of it feeling as good as we do. It will be nice to go home."

Gonzalez's two-run double

The Angels, who have lost five of their last seven games, dropped three games behind the Twins for the second American League Wild Card spot, their largest deficit since Aug. 8.

AL Wild Card standings

"I think our process is right," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We got shut down a couple nights ago by [Justin] Verlander. Tonight we couldn't get that key hit early, couldn't get the rally going. I think our process is where it needs to be. There's always been a sense of urgency every game we've played this season. We'll continue that and hopefully we'll start to get our offense going where we get the game on our terms."

Halos set to tackle tough stretch

Peacock scattered three hits while walking three and striking out three, yielding only a solo home run to Luis Valbuena that cut the Astros' lead to 2-1 in the fourth. Peacock, a candidate for Houston's playoff rotation, improved to 11-2 with a 2.98 ERA in 32 appearances this season, including 19 starts.

Valbuena's solo homer

Peacock (11-2) couldn't finish the sixth inning in his previous two starts.

"The guys that faced him a third time, he only gave up one walk so that's definitely progress," Hinch said. "I'm glad he got to finish his outing with walking off the mound with an out and after an inning concluded. He had good stuff. His slider continues to be his go-to pitch, he had a really good comeback sinker today. He looked like he was in total control really."

Right-hander Ricky Nolasco surrendered two runs over six innings in his first quality start since Aug. 1, but he received little help from the Angels' offense, which mustered only five hits. Rookie Keynan Middleton relieved Nolasco to start the seventh, but he threw only four pitches before exiting with right ulnar nerve irritation in his elbow. Scioscia said Middleton felt a "zinger" that subsided quickly and should be able to play catch on Friday.

Middleton leaves the game

Albert Pujols launched his 613th career home run off Chris Devenski in the ninth, passing Jim Thome for sole possession of seventh place on the all-time list. Pujols now has 57 career homers against the Astros in the regular season, his most against any team.

Pujols drills career homer No. 613

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Peacock escapes bases-loaded jam: The Angels generated their best scoring opportunity against Peacock in the first inning, loading the bases with two outs after Brandon Phillips doubled and Justin Upton and Kole Calhoun walked. Still, Peacock managed to dodge early trouble by inducing a flyout to center field from Andrelton Simmons to end the inning.

Peacock escapes a major jam

Astros strike for two: Houston, which had scored one run in each of the first two games of the series, went ahead, 2-0, in the second after Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel produced RBI hits against Nolasco. Gonzalez singled with one out and scored on Bregman's double to left field to put the Astros on the board. Gurriel then lined a two-out single to left-center to plate Bregman from second.

"We've had a good offense all year, so you have a game or two off or a series off and all of a sudden it feels bigger than it really is," Hinch said.

Bregman's RBI double

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Astros deployed an unusual defensive alignment against Pujols in the third inning, placing shortstop Carlos Correa and second baseman Jose Altuve several steps into the outfield. The maneuver worked, as Pujols grounded out to Correa in shallow left field for the final out of the inning. Correa's starting depth on the 6-3 putout was 197 feet from home, the deepest for a shortstop on a batted ball by a right-handed hitter in the Statcast™ era.

WHAT'S NEXT
Astros:The Astros open their final homestand of the season -- a nine-game stretch -- by sending right-hander Charlie Morton to the mound for Friday's 7:10 p.m. CT series opener against the Mariners. Morton is 8-3 with a 3.64 ERA in 14 starts at home this year.

Angels: The Angels will continue their nine-game homestand on Friday night by kicking off a three-game series against the Rangers at 7:07 p.m. PT at Angel Stadium. Right-hander Bud Norris will start the opener in place of Andrew Heaney, setting up a bullpen game for the Angels.

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Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.