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Angels takes advantage of Astros' lapses, win fourth straight

The SportsXchange

HOUSTON -- As the Los Angeles Angels continue their slow crawl back into postseason contention, they will rely on the sound, well-rounded performance they displayed Friday night as their template for success.

Los Angeles shortstop Erick Aybar put a bow on the Angels' opportunistic effort with his two-run single in the ninth inning of their 4-2 victory over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

One at-bat after Peter Bourjos reached on a fielder's choice grounder that shortstop Ronny Cedeno didn't field hastily enough, Aybar slapped a 2-2 fastball from Houston right-hander Hector Ambriz that scored Mark Trumbo and Josh Hamilton and doubled the Angels' output.

From savvy base running to splendid defense and solid pitching, the Angels did just enough to extend their winning streak to four games.

"All these things that you need to do when you're playing a game and you need to execute, that's what we talk about," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Playing at a certain level that will help you absorb some things that don't go your way. Late in the game we executed very well."

The Astros (30-50) couldn't say the same, surrendering a pair of unearned runs in advance of the ninth inning, with center fielder Brandon Barnes and Cedeno guilty of errors that enabled the Angles (37-43) to tie the game in the sixth inning and surge ahead in the eighth.

Houston also had three runners erased on the base paths, one each in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings as the outcome hung in the balance.

"A lot of times your best lessons you learn through failure," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "These are teachable moments that we will take advantage of, from a staff standpoint. When I say it's not going to happen, I'm not saying you go through the course of the year and it will never happen again. But a lot of times again when you fail at a situation and it's something that's discussed in detail moving forward, that player will take heed to that situation and make a different decision next time."

Houston managed a modest rally against Angels closer Ernesto Frieri when Carlos Pena and J.D. Martinez reached base to open the ninth. And while Frieri needed 29 pitches to do so, he ultimately recorded his 20th save by retiring in succession the three batters who followed Martinez.

Astros right-hander Bud Norris continued his exceptional pitching against the Angels this season, carrying a shutout into the sixth inning after limiting Los Angeles to one run over his three previous starts.

Norris was 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA against Los Angeles before Friday. He retired the Angels in order in the first and third innings while pitching around base runners in the second, fourth and fifth with relative ease before Barnes' error allowed the Angels to erase his modest lead.

Barnes made a pair of spectacular defensive plays in the third inning. But he booted a leadoff single by Aybar in the sixth, allowing Aybar to take second base on the play. Two batters later, center fielder Mike Trout laced a single over the outstretched glove of Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, driving in Aybar and knotting the score at 1-1.

"Located some fastballs and some sliders, a couple of change-ups in there, too," Norris said. "They put a few more lefties in their lineup, which was definitely a little more of a challenge, but that's good. I threw the cutter in there, too.

"Tough loss for the team, but we played hard for nine."

Houston had taken a 1-0 lead when catcher Jason Castro drilled his 11th home run to the back wall of the Astros' bullpen in right-center, a 425-foot shot off Angels right-hander Jerome Williams in the fourth inning.

Otherwise Williams was excellent, allowing just five hits while pitching into the seventh. Williams being able to match Norris was critical to the Angels' success.

"You just put up zeroes as fast as you can and that's what I tried to do," Williams said. "We got them. Got one off of them and got to their bullpen."

NOTES: Porter held right fielder Justin Maxwell out of the starting lineup despite Maxwell being cleared by team doctors following the mild concussion he suffered Tuesday night against the St. Louis Cardinals. Maxwell passed a battery of tests Thursday but Porter initially opted to give Maxwell an additional rest, later inserting him into the game as a pinch runner in the eighth inning. Maxwell manned right field in the ninth. ... Bourjos, sidelined after suffering a left thumb contusion on Sunday, followed a session in the cage with batting practice on Friday and returned to action as a pinch runner in the eighth inning. Bourjos manned center field for two innings and reached on a fielder's choice grounder in the ninth.
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