HOUSTON -- Thursday night wasn't the night to lament what might have been, but was instead better suited for enjoying what was accomplished despite several tribulations.
The Los Angeles Angels overcame poor situational hitting early and a controversial ruling late to salvage the finale of a three-game series with the Houston Astros, winning 6-5 at Minute Maid Park.
First baseman Mark Trumbo delivered a game-tying double to right field off Houston right-hander Hector Ambriz (0-2) in the eighth inning, driving home Brendan Harris and Mike Trout.
Three batters later, Alberto Callaspo plated Albert Pujols with a sacrifice fly to help the Angels (12-22) snap a four-game skid. The Angels had dropped nine of 11 games on the road entering their series finale with Houston (10-25).
"We'll take it however we can get it," Trumbo said. "I really don't think we were feeling sorry for ourselves. We hit a heck of a lot of balls hard this series, and if we even get a few more of them to drop, maybe it's a little easier for us to extend some rallies and give our pitchers some cushion."
With Houston clinging to a 5-3 lead and the Angels putting two runners on base with two outs in the top of the seventh, Astros manager Bo Porter replaced right-hander Paul Clemens with left-hander Wesley Wright. But after Wright threw several warm-up pitches, Porter reemerged from the dugout and replaced Wright with Ambriz despite Wright not having faced J.B. Shuck. Luis Jimenez had been announced as the pinch hitter for Shuck.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia was incensed. Despite appearing to rule in conflict with Rule 3.05 (b), which requires an incoming pitcher to face at least one batter unless there is an injury, the umpires allowed the pitching change to stand. Angels pinch hitter Scott Cousins flew out after Scioscia lodged an official protest of the game with crew chief Fieldin Culbreth.
"Well, the only thing I can tell you is that all matters concerning protests are handled through the league office," Culbreth said. "And that's all I can tell you."
The protest was withdrawn following the game, and Scioscia refused additional comment on the ruling other than to say, "I think the rule is pretty clear."
Porter, however, interpreted the rule and the situation differently.
"I was fortunate enough last year to sit in with (Washington Nationals manager) Davey (Johnson) when they changed the rule of a pitcher having to face a batter," Porter said. "But at the same time if you pinch-hit for that batter, you now have the right to bring in another pitcher. So technically Wesley came in to face the batter that was scheduled to hit, but he pinch-hit for the batter that was scheduled to hit, which my understanding of the rule means you can now bring in another pitcher to face the pinch hitter."
Angels closer Ernesto Frieri earned his fifth save by stranding two base runners in scoring position in the eighth before working a perfect ninth. Garrett Richards (2-3) earned the win with a scoreless seventh inning.
Given the Angels' multitude of base runners, it was surprising that Astros right-hander Lucas Harrell departed with a chance to notch a victory. Harrell had control issues throughout his laborious five-inning stint, and the Astros struggled behind him defensively: Sure-fielding third baseman Matt Dominguez committed three errors after entering the night with one over his previous 101 chances.
Harrell stranded 10 runners while the Angels were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Josh Hamilton cranked a leadoff home run in the second inning, and Trumbo scored on Callaspo's sacrifice fly in the third, but the Angels lacked clutch hitting.
The Astros weren't much better. Both Dominguez and Chris Carter were thrown out at second base attempting to stretch run-scoring singles in the second and fourth innings. Houston pushed ahead 3-2 when Ronny Cedeno scored on Brandon Barnes' infield single in the fifth, but Clemens surrendered a leadoff homer to Harris in the sixth, ensuring that Harrell would not record a victory after all.
"There aren't many games you're going to win when you leave 16 guys on base," Scioscia said. "It's a great character game for our guys. I feel good for them. The clubhouse feels good."
NOTES: Harrell matched his career high of six walks set Sept. 25, 2012, in a 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. ... Hamilton has hit four home runs this season, with all four coming against Houston pitching. ... Angels shortstop Erick Aybar departed in the fifth inning due to tightness in his right hamstring but should avoid a stint on the disabled list. He finished 0-for-3, snapping his hitting streak at 11 games.