HOUSTON -- Luis Valbuena burned his former team by hitting a two-run, bases-loaded double in the seventh inning off reliever Chris Devenski to break a tie and send the Angels to a 7-5 win over the Astros in the regular-season finale at Minute Maid Park on Sunday night.
The Angels, who snapped a six-game losing streak by sending the Astros to their third loss in their last 12 games, are 4 1/2 games behind the Twins for the second American League Wild Card spot. Houston fell 2 1/2 games behind the Indians for the best record in the AL.
"We've got seven games left to win as many games as we can," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We set out this season to win the division. Checkmark that box in September. I said we're going to continue to compete and play and win as many games as we can. That's going to continue. Whatever the total is at the end is great, and then the real season begins in the postseason."
• Upton, Phillips spark offensive resurgence
A two-run homer by Alex Bregman and two-run double by Evan Gattis in the third inning gave the Astros a 4-1 lead -- three of the runners who scored reached on walks -- but the Angels chipped away with a Brandon Phillips' solo homer in the fourth and consecutive bases-loaded walks to Phillips and Andrelton Simmons to tie the game at 4 in the fifth.
"We had good at-bats with the exception of guys in scoring position. We were 2-for-16 with guys in scoring position," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We had a lot of opportunities. With McCullers, we were patient enough that when he made a mistake we hit it. We hit the ball hard."
Astros starter Lance McCullers, pitching for only the second time since July 30, allowed two runs and four hits in 3 1/3 innings, leaving after only 63 pitches. Angels starter Tyler Skaggs gave up four runs and six hits in five innings.
• Where does McCullers stand for ALDS?
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Bad luck for Astros: The Angels loaded the bases in the seventh with the help of some fortunate bounces. Jose Pujols blooped a single down the right-field line that barely landed fair, Phillips reached when Bregman booted a grounder, and Simmons shot a grounder up the middle that glanced off the ankle of reliever Devenski and went for a single. With the bases loaded, Valbuena ripped a two-run double to right to put the Angels ahead, 6-4.
"We didn't finish the inning the way we normally do, and Valbuena comes up with a big hit," Hinch said. "Obviously, the ball is barely fair and hard to get to with the defensive alignment we're in. And then a ball we normally make and could be a double-play ball and would have been the most ideal outcome, and Valbuena with the big at-bat. We lost some big moments today and that's why we lost the game."
Gattis can't check swing: With the tying run at first base and two outs in the seventh, Gattis was rung up by home-plate umpire Will Little on a check swing for the third out. Astros manager A.J. Hinch was ejected by Little for arguing the call from the dugout, marking the second time in the series Hinch was thrown out.
"There was really no reason to throw me out," Hinch said. "I didn't curse at him. I didn't go over the top. It just ended up being he wins when he's the boss on the field. A couple of pitches didn't go our way. Check-swings, you always want the first-base umpire. That's what he's there for on that call. I don't have final say. I was just told to go to my office."
"What's taking him so long? We're ready for him to hit that 200-mark." -- joked Hinch on Jose Altuve, who went 2-for-2 and is two hits shy of his fourth consecutive 200-hit season
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The win was the Angels' 45th comeback win of the season, which ties the Dodgers for the most in the Majors and is two shy of the club record of 47 in '09.
NOTHING BUNT SPEED
Altuve's bunt single in the fifth inning had him going home to first in 3.33 seconds, according to Statcast™ (the time starts at moment of contact and Altuve was already in motion towards first). Still, the 3.33 seconds is the fastest home-to-first time recorded since Statcast™ started tracking in 2015. (The next-fastest overall is 3.42 seconds by Adam Eaton on Aug. 23, 2016, and the next-fastest this season is 3.43 seconds by Rougned Odor on Aug. 14.).
Angels: The club begins a crucial four-game series in Chicago starting Monday. The Angels pretty much need to sweep the White Sox to stay in the race for the second Wild Card spot. Right-hander Ricky Nolasco (6-14, 5.06 ERA) has not faced the White Sox this season and is 1-4 in his career against them. He will oppose right-hander James Shields (4-7, 5.40).
Astros:Collin McHugh makes his 11th start of the season for the AL West Division champions, who begin a three-game series at Texas beginning at 7:05 p.m. CT Monday. In his only appearance against the Rangers this year, McHugh (3-2, 3.44), got a no-decision. Right-hander Andrew Cashner (10-10, 3.44) will start for the Rangers.
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