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Halos use Houston as launch pad with 4 HRs

Calhoun, Ohtani, Simmons, Trout connect to end Astros' win streak
@RhettBollinger
July 6, 2019

HOUSTON -- If the Angels are going to get back into the postseason picture this year, much of it could come down to how they play against the Astros going forward this season. Due to a schedule quirk, the Angels played the first-place Astros for just the third time this

HOUSTON -- If the Angels are going to get back into the postseason picture this year, much of it could come down to how they play against the Astros going forward this season.

Due to a schedule quirk, the Angels played the first-place Astros for just the third time this season on Friday and came away with a much-needed 5-4 win powered by homers from Kole Calhoun, Shohei Ohtani, Andrelton Simmons and Mike Trout in the series opener at Minute Maid Park. Three of those homers came off veteran Justin Verlander, who entered with a 7-1 record and 1.78 ERA in nine starts against the Angels since joining the Astros in 2017.

“I've seen Verlander first-hand, saw him for years,” said manager Brad Ausmus, who managed Verlander in Detroit from 2014-17. “You know you're not going to score many runs, so to squeeze out four against him, that's pretty good. Now you just need our pitchers to hold them down, which we were able to do.”

It was the first game in a stretch of 10 games in which the Angels play Houston seven times, as the two clubs still have 16 more meetings against each other this year. It also helped the Angels improve to 45-44 on the year and 3-1 on their heartbreaking Texas road trip, which began with left-hander Tyler Skaggs’ death on Monday.

"Obviously, it's good to get back into things, but we're still thinking about him,” Trout said. “He's watching over us. [We're] going out there and playing for him."

Homers carry the offense

Calhoun got things going with a two-run shot in the third against Verlander. It was Calhoun’s 19th of the year, which matches his total from 2017 and ‘18. The only time he’s hit more than 20 was in 2015, when he hit 26. Calhoun has worked to retool his swing this year, and he has been pleased with the results.

"I like it,” Calhoun said. “It's been a lot more consistent than it has been in the past. It's definitely nice. But I have to keep working. There are going to be some bumps and bruises along the way.”

Just two batters later, Ohtani connected on a solo shot to center, giving him a homer on his 25th birthday. It was the 13th of the year for Ohtani and the first by an Angels player on a birthday since Trout in 2017.

“He's been consistently having good at-bats and getting hits, big hits, home runs," Ausmus said. "Shohei is a very smart hitter. He may only be 25 today, but he is a very intelligent hitter and a very prepared hitter."

Simmons gave the Angels some breathing room with a solo blast to left to open the sixth. It was the first homer from Simmons since he returned from a sprained left ankle on June 27.

After Verlander departed, having allowed four runs over seven innings, Trout stayed hot with a solo homer to left off reliever Hector Rondon. It was Trout’s fourth homer in his last three games, giving him 26 on the year. It’s tied for his most before an All-Star break, as he holds the club record with 26 prior to the 2015 Midsummer Classic. The homer, notably, came on a fastball up and in, which is where pitchers have been trying to attack Trout this year.

“It's good," Trout said. "It's weird -- if I tell myself to look for that pitch, I get out. If I don't, I get hits."

Bullpen shuts the door

The homers backed right-hander Felix Pena, who gave up two runs on three hits over four innings after Noe Ramirez opened the game with a scoreless first. Pena served up a solo homer to Michael Brantley in the second, while Brantley also singled and scored on an RBI groundout in the fourth.

Ausmus opted to go with Justin Anderson in the sixth despite Pena being at only 61 pitches. Anderson ran into trouble with a leadoff walk and a double, but he recorded two key outs before Ty Buttrey entered and walked Josh Reddick before getting Robinson Chirinos to ground out to end the scoring threat.

"We put ourselves behind the eight ball a little bit with second and third, and then Anderson gets two outs and Buttrey gets the final out of that inning and pitches a clean seventh," Ausmus said. "It wasn't 1-2-3, 1-2-3, but we made it."

Reliever Cam Bedrosian surrendered a two-run dinger to Yuli Gurriel with two outs in the eighth, but closer Hansel Robles was able to lock it down in the ninth for his 12th save of the year.

“The bullpen locked it down,” Calhoun said. “Cam gave up that homer to make it a one-run game, but it was a really good pitch. It was nice to get the first win of the series, for sure."

Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.