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Astros' PW power backs Keuchel at Big A

Lefty cruises behind MarGo's slam, HRs by Tuve and I am Groot
Special to MLB.com

ANAHEIM -- After the Astros beat the Angels, 9-3, on Friday night as Players' Weekend got underway at Angel Stadium, they probably felt like most Southern California summertime visitors: They don't want to go home.

Houston won its third straight and fourth in its last five games on its road trip and improved to 16-5 in California this season. Behind the dominant pitching of Dallas Keuchel (David Burd), Marwin Gonzalez's (MarGo) second career grand slam and solo shots from Jose Altuve (Tuve) and Carlos Correa (I am Groot), the Astros maintained their 1 1/2-game lead over the second-place A's in the American League West.

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ANAHEIM -- After the Astros beat the Angels, 9-3, on Friday night as Players' Weekend got underway at Angel Stadium, they probably felt like most Southern California summertime visitors: They don't want to go home.

Houston won its third straight and fourth in its last five games on its road trip and improved to 16-5 in California this season. Behind the dominant pitching of Dallas Keuchel (David Burd), Marwin Gonzalez's (MarGo) second career grand slam and solo shots from Jose Altuve (Tuve) and Carlos Correa (I am Groot), the Astros maintained their 1 1/2-game lead over the second-place A's in the American League West.

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"Grand slams don't come often, but Marwin has been swinging the bat well," Keuchel said.

:: Players' Weekend presented by Valspar Stain ::

Astros Players' Weekend gear

Keuchel (10-10) continues to hoist the team on his shoulders as he delivered another stout outing in winning for the eighth time in nine decisions against the Angels. He worked seven innings, allowing two runs on five hits while striking out six and walking two. The lefty has won six straight starts against the Angels and is 12-2 against them in his career.

The Angels had a turn-back-the-clock theme at the ballpark, and Keuchel joined in by finding his 2015 AL Cy Young Award form. In his last 13 starts, the bearded southpaw is 7-2 with 10 quality starts.

"Besides the seventh, I think I was in pretty good control," said Keuchel, who lost his shutout on Taylor Ward's two-out homer in the seventh. "I worked the fastball away and the cutter in. I'm just continuing to feel good, and that's a great feeling."

It's always swell pitching with a comfortable cushion, and that was what Keuchel had for the majority of his outing.

"When you get a few runs to work with, it's easy to figure things out," he said. "You can make some pitches that you wouldn't normally make in the course of a tighter ballgame. I was able to do that and figure some stuff out for the future."

Astros nicknames for Players' Weekend

Video: HOU@LAA: Keuchel tosses 7 strong frames vs. Angels

Keuchel was backed by Gonzalez's grand slam in the fifth, his 13th homer on the year. Gonzalez was presented a middle-cut, 91-mph fastball by Angels starter Andrew Heaney and didn't miss it, collecting his third homer and eighth RBI of the road trip.

"We have been swinging the bat better as a team, and I think that is contagious, too," Gonzalez said. "Two weeks ago, we couldn't score runs, but it is getting better lately.

"I was just trying to do my job, get a fly ball and bring in a run. I was looking to get a pitch over the plate and hit it out of the park. I knew as soon as I hit it it was either going to be a home run or double. It felt amazing."

Astros manager AJ Hinch (Coach) said Gonzalez has made strides since the All-Star break.

"I think he has simplified his approach," Hinch said. "His strength of contact is really up. His pitch selection is better. When you got through a rut like Marwin did early in the year, it's easy to get frustrated, it's easy to start to question where the production is.

"Then you look at the back of his baseball card the last couple of years and this guy has been there for us, and he will be there for us again."

Video: HOU@LAA: 'Tuve' belts his 10th home run of the season

Altuve socked his 10th homer on the year, a solo blast in the third that landed on top of the Astros' bullpen in left-center field. Correa's homer in the seventh was his 14th this season and came in his 12th game since landing on the disabled list with a back injury on June 26.

Altuve went on the DL with a right knee injury on July 27, and this was only his third game back. It was the first time he and Correa have homered in the same contest since Game 5 of the 2017 World Series, and the first time in a regular-season game in over a year.

"Each day they get further away from the DL is going to be better for them," said Hinch. "It's nice to see them get rewarded."

Video: HOU@LAA: 'I Am Groot' mashes a solo homer to left

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Angels looked poised to strike first in the first inning. Mike Trout returned from nearly three weeks away because of a trip to the disabled list and the recent death of his brother-in-law, Aaron Cox, who was also a pitcher in the Angels' system. Trout, wearing "A. Cox" on his Players' Weekend jersey, crushed a two-out, standup triple on the first pitch he saw. When Keuchel walked Albert Pujols, the Angels looked for a quick lead, but Keuchel got Andrelton Simmons to ground into a forceout to squash the rally.

Trout's new PW name honors late brother-in-law

Video: HOU@LAA: Trout ropes a triple in return from DL

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Altuve was keen in the field, too. In the bottom of the third, with Kole Calhoun aboard on a one-out single, David Fletcher hit a soft line drive to Altuve. When Altuve noticed Fletcher wasn't running hard of the box, he smartly let the ball land in front of him, grabbed it on a short hop and threw to first to retire Fletcher. Calhoun was caught in no-man's land and got caught in a rundown to end the inning.

"That was a big play there to let that ball drop," Keuchel said. "Head's up."

Video: HOU@LAA: 'Tuve' turns a heads up double play

HE SAID IT
"I was 3-8 at one point, so I will take 10-10, for sure. Beggars can't be choosy. It's nice to get wins. Everybody talk about wins not being that relevant, but it is. It's the first thing people look at and the last thing people look at." -- Keuchel, on rebounding to get his record to .500

Video: HOU@LAA: Keuchel, Hinch discuss 9-3 win over Angels

UP NEXT
Justin Verlander (12-8, 2.65 ERA) goes for the Astros at 8:07 p.m. CT on Saturday in the middle contest of this three-game series. Verlander is 3-0 in three career starts against the Angels, and he's riding a 23-inning scoreless streak at Angel Stadium, the fourth-longest span of the Halos being blanked by a visiting pitcher. The Angels will counter with rookie right-hander Jaime Barria (8-7, 3.41).

Jay Paris is a contributor to MLB.com based in Southern California.

Houston Astros, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, Dallas Keuchel