While Mike Scioscia wouldn't say that Tuesday's game against the Houston Astros was a must-win, the Los Angeles Angels manager certainly knows that every game left has extra importance with his team fighting for a wild-card playoff spot.
Mike Trout and Albert Pujols hit back-to-back homers in the first inning and the Angels held on for an important 4-3 victory over the Astros.
The victory moves the Angels 2 1-2 games behind Houston for the second American League wild-card spot.
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"We know how important wins are now," Scioscia said. "But right now if we keep playing well ... we can stay close enough, keep pressuring them. Maybe we can't do it all ourselves and get a little bit of help. But every game is going to be important, no doubt about that."
There was one on in the first when Trout launched his 40th homer to left-center to make it 2-0. The 36th home run this season by Pujols extended the lead to 3-0. That homer was also the 556th of Pujols' career, putting him ahead of Manny Ramirez for 15th in MLB history.
Houston cut the lead to one when Marwin Gonzalez and Chris Carter hit consecutive solo homers in the second inning.
The Angels added an insurance run on an RBI single by Kole Calhoun in the eighth to help them snap a six-game losing streak in Houston.
"It's huge," Trout said of the win. "Obviously they're in front of us and every game we can win like tonight it's advantage us and just trying to cut down on that lead."
Hector Santiago (9-9) allowed four hits and two runs in five-plus innings. He was ejected for the first time in his career for arguing with the umpire on his way off the field after he was lifted.
Huston Street got the last four outs for his 39th save. He allowed a double to Carlos Correa with two outs in the ninth and intentionally walked Jed Lowrie, but struck out Evan Gattis to end it.
Correa's double was just to the left of straightaway center field. A ball hit there next year will be a homer with Houston taking out the hill and moving in the fence in center field in a bit this offseason.
"It's tough," he said. "It's one of the balls that I've hit the hardest all year. I was hoping for it to go out, but it didn't."
Rookie Lance McCullers (5-7) allowed four hits, including a career-high two homers, and three runs with nine strikeouts in seven innings in his 20th career start.
The Astros got within a run in the eighth when Lowrie scored on a wild pitch by Street.
Trout became the second player in franchise history to hit 40 homers in a season, joining Troy Glaus, who did it in 2000 (47) and 2001 (41).
"It's obviously special to reach 40," Trout said. "Coming into this season, thinking it would be pretty special and pretty cool and it happened."
Erick Aybar hit a leadoff single before Trout's homer in the first. Three pitches later Pujols connected for the 50th time in his career against the Astros, which is the most by any player.
There were two outs in the second inning when Gonzalez homered into the seats in left field to cut the lead to 3-1. Carter hit his 20th homer of the second on the next at-bat to get Houston within 3-2.
Houston's 209 home runs this season are the second-most in franchise history.
Angels: 2B Johnny Giavotella, on the DL with a nerve condition that caused problems with his vision, took live batting practice Tuesday in Arizona. Scioscia said he no longer has double vision and that he'll take batting practice again Wednesday. He isn't sure when he'll return to the team.
Astros: OF Carlos Gomez (intercostal strain) missed his 10th straight game. The Astros hoped to get him back by this weekend, but aren't sure if he'll be ready. Manager A.J. Hinch said Tuesday he isn't able to swing a bat at full speed and take batting practice yet.
Correa wasn't interested in having a drink to celebrate his 21st birthday. The star rookie marked the big day with a huge breakfast with his family, who was visiting from Puerto Rico. The clan ate at a popular Houston eatery called The Breakfast Klub where Correa's huge appetite was on full display. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Correa scarfed down an order of fried chicken and waffles, a banana and pecan pancake, French toast, a side of scrambled eggs mixed with ham, cheese and spinach and washed it all down with orange juice and water.
Astros RHP Mike Fiers (7-10, 3.64) opposes Los Angeles RHP Nick Tropeano (2-2, 5.06) when the series wraps up Wednesday. Fiers has been great at home since a trade from Milwaukee, going 1-0 with a 0.89 ERA in three starts, including throwing a no-hitter against the Dodgers on Aug. 21.