"It was probably one of the worst games we played in the last two weeks," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We'll have to come out tomorrow and play a little better fundamental baseball."
The Angels are 3-4 against the team with the worst record in the American League, with three of those setbacks coming in series openers.
"We have to play better," Scioscia said. "You have to play a good game every night on the schedule. Those guys have certainly played us tough, and we're going to have to come out tomorrow and play better."
Trailing, 6-2, in the eighth, the Halos made it interesting when Erick Aybar lined a homer to right to cut the deficit to three runs. But Josh Hamilton popped out with runners on the corners to end any hopes of a comeback.
Tommy Hanson returned from the restricted list to make his first start since May 4, but he remains in search of his first win since April 19. The right-hander had been away from the club for much of May following his stepbrother's death.
"It felt good to get back out there and pitch again," said Hanson, who was charged with five runs (four earned) on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings. "It's not exactly the performance I would have liked. But it's good to get that over with. It's something to build on, and hopefully I'll be better the next time."
The Halos scored twice in the second against left-hander Dallas Keuchel. Mark Trumbo doubled to begin the inning, took third on a single by Hamilton and scored on a single by Chris Iannetta. Hamilton, feeling better after battling back spasms this week, scored on a groundout by Chris Nelson.
But the Angels were unable to do much else offensively until Aybar's first homer of the season.
"We couldn't piggyback some hits or get enough pressure going," Scioscia said.
Hanson cruised through the first three innings, allowing just one hit and striking out two against one walk. But he surrendered three runs in the fourth as the Astros went in front, 3-2.
After getting ahead of Jason Castro, 0-2, Hanson allowed a home run to the Houston catcher leading off the frame on a fastball that leaked out over the plate. A single, a double and a sacrifice fly tied the game at 2.
Then a pair of defensive miscues by the Angels helped the Astros take their first lead of the game, as Trumbo's throw on a Matt Dominguez sacrifice fly was off line and cut off near the mound by first baseman Brendan Harris. But Iannetta also attempted to field Trumbo's throw, leaving the plate unoccupied and allowing Carlos Pena to score from third. Pena had stopped running halfway down the line, then sprinted home when he noticed Iannetta was several feet from the plate.
It was only the second game Harris started at first base this season, as Albert Pujols was given the night off.
"You have some guys playing out of position, and when you do, the timing is not going to be there on certain plays," Scioscia said. "Unfortunately, it got us tonight."
Keuchel allowed six hits in seven innings with four strikeouts as the Angels fell to 6-8 against left-handed starters.
"Dallas did a great job," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "It was an overall great job to give us the amount of innings he gave us against an opponent like that."
The Astros had some breathing room in the eighth after tacking on three insurance runs in the seventh. Ronny Cedeno tripled to center on a fly ball that Mike Trout had trouble tracking, and scored on a single by Brandon Barnes. That was it for Hanson, who was removed for Dane De La Rosa.
"I left some pitches up in the fourth and I hung two sliders in that last inning that got me in trouble," Hanson said. "Other than that, I feel like I threw the ball well. It's not all negative. I know I got the loss and I didn't pitch how I wanted to pitch, but there are some positives in there and I can definitely do better the next time."
Houston scored again when second baseman Howie Kendrick's errant throw to first allowed Barnes to score from second. Pena drove in another run with his third hit of the night.
Despite the loss, the Angels still had a strong May and are 10-3 in their last 13 games. The Halos finished the month 16-13, rebounding from a 9-17 mark in April.
"We've got a lot more confidence than we've had at any time during the season," Scioscia said. "It maybe didn't show up tonight, but our guys are definitely feeling confident in some of the things we're starting to see come together for our club. This is just a bump in the road."