"Those two in the eighth are big runs," Lawless said. "You take the pressure off of [closer] Chad [Qualls]. Coming out of the bullpen with a one-run lead and pitching with a three-run lead is a whole lot easier than a ninth-inning one-run lead. Mr. Carter's really improved. He gets his barrel on the baseball, it can move somewhere."
Carter's 22nd homer since the start of July gives him 35 for the season -- the most by an Astros player since Lance Berkman had 45 in 2006 and just one off the Major League lead, held by Giancarlo Stanton and Nelson Cruz.
"He's put up some home runs this year," said Angels starter Jered Weaver, who took a tough-luck loss despite holding the Astros to two runs on five hits in six-plus innings. "It's no secret, and he did it to us tonight."
After losing their final 15 games of 2013, with many of the losses coming against playoff contenders, the Astros are eager to play spoiler this season. And they'll have more chances, as they open a nine-game, West Coast road trip on Friday against the A's before visiting the Mariners and Angels.
"It's fun to watch right now," said Qualls, who worked the ninth for his 17th save. "These kids are getting a valuable learning experience, and it can only get better for the future."
Right-hander Collin McHugh continued his transition from waiver-wire wonder to one of the most consistent starting pitchers in the American League. He won for the fourth time in five starts by holding the first-place Angels to four hits, no walks and one run in 7 2/3 innings while striking out eight.
"Being able to make pitches when you need them, that was really important for me tonight," McHugh said. "They've got some boppers in their lineup, guys who can go out and get it and hit the ball out of the park. You've got to try to make good pitches and try and execute as well as you possibly can. I had a good fastball tonight when I needed it. At times it was inconsistent, but when it needed to show up, it was there."
McHugh (8-9) retired 17 of the last 18 batters he faced while improving to 4-0 with a 1.79 ERA since the start of August. His 2.89 ERA is the lowest by an Astros starter through Sept. 3 since Roger Clemens recorded a 1.57 ERA in 2005.
The vaunted trio in the Angels' batting order -- Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton -- went a combined 1-for-24 in the series.
"When you can shut those three guys down, you're doing pretty good," Lawless said.
Third baseman Matt Dominguez saved a run in the first inning when he made a diving stop and threw out Hamilton with two outs and a runner at second. Carter walloped a leadoff homer in the second inning to give the Astros the lead, but shortstop Jonathan Villar booted a grounder off the bat of Trout in the third to allow a run to score and tie the game.
The Astros took a one-run lead in the fourth when Dexter Fowler walked with one out, stole second base and scored on a two-out bloop single by Jason Castro.
"If we don't steal second base, we don't take the lead," Lawless said. "So trying to be aggressive at the right times is one of the things we need to do. As long as everybody buys in, we're going to be good. Once that winning starts, everybody gets involved. How good the pitching was, the defense, the baserunning -- everything jells together. It's a lot of fun when you win."