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Astros ride McCullers' arm to win over Angels

July 22, 2016

HOUSTON -- Lance McCullers Jr. faced the game's most productive offense this month and dominated, twirling eight-plus strong innings to lead his Astros to a 2-1 victory at Minute Maid Park on Friday night, their ninth in a row against the division-rival Angels.The Astros have gone a Major League-best 35-16

HOUSTON -- Lance McCullers Jr. faced the game's most productive offense this month and dominated, twirling eight-plus strong innings to lead his Astros to a 2-1 victory at Minute Maid Park on Friday night, their ninth in a row against the division-rival Angels.
The Astros have gone a Major League-best 35-16 since May 23 and are now only 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Rangers in the American League West.
McCullers gave up just four hits and issued four walks, striking out 10 to capture his fifth win and drop his ERA to 3.33. He became the first right-hander to strike out Mike Trout swinging in three straight plate appearances, using curveballs for each one.
"He threw me curveballs all night, and I just wasn't picking them up," said Trout, who struck out three times for the first time all season.
"He's an unbelievable player -- everybody knows that," McCullers said. "Today I got him a couple times."
McCullers struck out the side in the eighth, then came back out for the ninth and issued back-to-back walks, prompting Astros manager A.J. Hinch to remove him with a career-high 117 pitches. Will Harris then gave up a two-out RBI single to Andrelton Simmons, but he struck out Ji-Man Choi with the potential tying run in scoring position, recording his 10th save and snapping the Angels' six-game winning streak.

The Astros couldn't do much against Matt Shoemaker, who entered with a 2.36 ERA since May 21, but they got just enough.
In the fifth, Preston Tucker got a triple on a ball that rolled all the way up Tal's Hill and then scored when Jason Castro lined a single past a drawn-in infield. With two outs in the seventh, Angels manager Mike Scioscia removed Shoemaker after he walked Castro to put runners on the corners and put his pitch count at 101. With the next pitch, Joe Smith served up an RBI single to George Springer.
"It was pretty humid in here, even though we're indoors," Scioscia said. "There was a lot of things to consider. He threw a lot of pitches [115] last outing. He had an extra day. I thought his stuff was holding up well, but we all felt he was just getting a little tired there in the seventh and didn't really want to stretch him."

Tucker's Tal's Hill triple: Tucker made his first game back from Triple-A Fresno a memorable one, blasting his first career triple to Tal's Hill in the bottom of the fifth. A Castro single in the next at-bat sent Tucker home to give the Astros a 1-0 lead. Tucker batted just .176 with Houston earlier this season, which is why he was sent down to Fresno, but his second stint in the bigs appears to be off to a good start.
"To contribute in the lineup right away is a big deal," Hinch said. "Tucker certainly ignited [the game] with the triple, and being able to contribute on your first day back, seeing your old teammates for the first time in a while, has got to feel pretty good." More >

Opportunity wasted: The Angels, who entered with a Major League-best .356 batting average with runners in scoring position in July, had two on with none out in the first and ninth innings and could not capitalize. In the first, Trout struck out, Albert Pujols grounded out and Daniel Nava popped out. In the ninth, with Harris in the game, the Angels could only squeeze across one run.
"[McCullers] has a good arm," Scioscia said. "He had a good breaking ball tonight, mixed it in on off counts, kept us off balance for most of the night. Our best chance was in that first inning, and we couldn't get a couple home."
McCullers' Minute Maid dominance: McCullers has been superb at home in his young career, but he was on another level on Friday. After allowing three hits in the first two innings, the youngest active starting pitcher in the AL surrendered only one in the next six, going eight-plus innings and striking out 10. The 22-year-old has allowed three runs or fewer in each of his first 18 home starts, a club record.
"I could tell early on they were really patient," McCullers said. "I was throwing some really good breaking balls barely out of the bottom of the zone. They were just laying off 'em." More >
No love for Shoe: Shoemaker was once again a victim of low run support. The 29-year-old has only three wins in his last 12 starts despite being charged with only 22 earned runs in 83 innings during that span, striking out 93 and walking only 10. During his dominant stretch, which began on May 21, the Angels have been held to three runs or fewer eight times.
"Every pitcher wants to pitch with a lead," Shoemaker said. "But you can't focus on that other stuff. You just have to focus on putting up zeros. I go back to that Castro at-bat -- I get him out, come the ninth inning, it's a 1-1 game." More >
Glovework proves crucial: In the third, Luis Valbuena barehanded a Gregorio Petit grounder and fired it to first baseman Marwin Gonzalez just before Petit was able to cross the bag. In the ninth, Carlos Correa made a diving leap toward Nava's liner up the middle, and trapped the ball under his glove quickly enough to throw it to second baseman José Altuve to secure the fielder's choice. More >

"I have it in the tank, but I use it sparingly. I might have a couple more, hopefully." -- Tucker, on his speed during the triple
The Astros defeated the Angels for the ninth consecutive time for their longest winning streak against an AL team in franchise history. It also marks the club's longest winning streak against any opponent since the 2004-05 seasons. The last team to win nine straight games against the Angels was the 2010 Red Sox.
Angels:Jered Weaver starts the second game of the three-game series from Minute Maid Park at 4:10 p.m. PT on Saturday. The veteran right-hander has given up two runs in 13 innings this month but allowed 14 runs in his last 23 1/3 innings in Houston.
Astros: Right-hander Collin McHugh takes the mound against the Angels for the third time this season at 6:10 p.m. CT on Saturday. The Astros have won five of McHugh's last six starts; he hasn't allowed more than three runs in a game during that stretch.
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Alden Gonzalez has covered the Angels for since 2012. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Jordan Ray is a reporter for based in Houston.