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Angels gain ground on Cron's late homer

ANAHEIM -- C.J. Cron belted a tiebreaking homer into the center-field rockpile to begin the eighth inning on Saturday night, leading the Angels to a 3-2 victory over the visiting Astros and pushing them closer to a spot in the postseason.

The Angels (72-69) have won seven of 10 in September, following a 19-loss August, and are now 3 1/2 games back of the Astros in the American League West and two back of the Rangers for the second AL Wild Card spot.

Setup man Joe Smith, who recorded two big outs in the eighth inning, said his team isn't thinking about the Wild Card.

"Who wants to go to the Wild Card?" Smith said. "I don't think anybody does. At the beginning of the year, you set out to win your division and go into the playoffs and win the World Series. Our goals are still within reach. It's fun, man. It's fun to see us playing good baseball."

The Astros made up a two-run deficit with a couple of titanic homers off Angels starting pitcher Hector Santiago, one from Carlos Correa in the sixth and another by former Angels catcher Hank Conger in the seventh. But Cron got a 1-1 cutter out over the plate from Astros reliever Will Harris and launched it way out for his 12th home run.

Huston Street followed with a 1-2-3 ninth inning, giving him 35 saves on the year and 310 for his career to tie him with Goose Gossage for 22nd on the all-time list.

The Astros (76-66) have dropped seven of their last 10, but remained 1 1/2 games up on the Rangers for the AL West lead.

"Nobody's going to let off," Conger said. "Nobody's going to feel sorry for us. Right now, we're just going to have to fight back. Every game's a pressure situation for us. We'll be fine. I mean, today, we played a hard fought game. Back and forth. So I don't think anyone's really panicking."

The Angels have won three straight games by the same score.

"We're right in it," Santiago said after giving up two runs on five hits and two walks in seven innings. "We just have to keep winning games. Go out there, and just keep playing baseball."

Video: [email protected]: Street fans Gonzalez for the final out

Big recovery: Jose Altuve hit a one-out double in the eighth inning, putting the go-ahead run in scoring position with the middle of the Astros' batting order coming up. But Smith struck out Correa, then got Carlos Gomez to ground out softly and end the inning, setting it up for Cron's heroics. Smith struggled of late, giving up eight runs in 3 2/3 innings spread out over five appearances. But he's begun this series with back-to-back scoreless eighth innings.

"They're pretty good," Smith said of Correa and Gomez, "but I'm supposed to be able to get those guys out. Maybe if I would've faced them two weeks ago I probably wouldn't have. But that's how it goes. It's my job, eighth inning, it's the meat of the order and you have to get it done. It's a good feeling when you get out of it." More >

Deep Freese: David Freese put the Angels on the board in the second inning, lining an RBI single to right-center field after Cron and Erick Aybar began the frame with back-to-back hits. Since coming off a stint on the disabled list with a fractured right index finger, the veteran third baseman is batting .389.

Video: [email protected]: Freese opens the scoring with an RBI single

Hammer' Hank: Conger hit balls on the screws during his first two at-bats, flying out to deep left field in the second and fifth innings. Facing Santiago for the third time in the seventh, Conger crushed a two-out homer to center field to tie the game. It was his 11th homer of the year and seventh batting right-handed.

"Obviously, I think that kind of made me feel better my third AB coming into it," Conger said. "Whether they were hits, the swings felt good and I felt like I made good hard contact. But this park's tough."

Video: [email protected]: Conger wallops a game-tying homer to center

Catching fire: Cron has continued to be red hot since getting recalled on June 29. Since then, the 25-year-old right-handed hitter is batting .308 with 11 homers and 34 RBIs. Eleven of those RBIs have come over the last 10 games. It marked the fifth time he has homered in the seventh inning or later.

"I don't know," Cron said of how he's able to come through in the clutch. "I love to be in that spot and try to help the team win."

Video: [email protected]: Cron discusses go-ahead homer, Angels' win

Big 'D': David Murphy was initially brought in to platoon at designated hitter, but Cron's hot streak and David DeJesus' initial struggles have put him in left field. And he's held his own out there. On Saturday, Murphy made two big plays on hard-hit balls from Conger, leaping against the wall in the second and making an over-the-shoulder grab on a liner in the fifth.

"He makes up for a lot of things with his experience," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's a smart ballplayer. He was in the right position for two balls that were caught, and he made two nice plays out there." 

"We're learning a lot about ourselves during this trip. We're in these games. We'll find a way to scratch out a few more wins." -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch, whose team is 1-4 on his season-longest 11-day, 10-game road trip

"When he gets all of it, you'll know. C.J. has as much power as any hitter in our league." -- Scioscia, after saying Cron didn't get all of it on his eighth-inning homer

Mike Trout's seventh-inning double, a hard line drive in the left-center-field gap, gave him 300 extra-base hits for his career. He's just the fifth player to amass that many by his age-23 season. The others were Mel Ott, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Ted Williams. Trout turned 24 on Aug. 7.

Correa's sixth-inning homer against Santiago, which capped a 12-pitch at-bat, was projected by Statcast™ to land 469 feet away from home plate, making it the longest home run at Angel Stadium this season. It was the 25th-longest overall, and it came off his bat at 112 mph.

Video: [email protected]: Correa cuts the deficit with a monster homer

The Angels got a call overturned on Altuve's stolen-base attempt in the first inning, moving the club to 20-for-37 in challenges this season. Altuve beat the throw by Angels catcher Carlos Perez, but Altuve came off the base when he switched feet on his pop-up slide for a split second and Taylor Featherston still had the tag on him.

Video: [email protected]: Angels challenge safe call at second in 1st

Astros:Right-hander Mike Fiers (7-10, 3.66 ERA) gets the start for the Astros in the series finale on Sunday at 12:35 p.m. CT. In five starts since coming over in a trade with the Brewers, he's 2-1 with a 1.69 ERA, including a no-hitter.

Angels: Andrew Heaney (6-3, 3.52) opposes Fiers. The 24-year-old rookie left-hander gave up five runs in five innings against the Dodgers on Tuesday, but just three runs in 13 innings across two starts before that. Heaney pitched six innings of one-run ball against the Astros in his Angels debut on June 24.

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Alden Gonzalez and Brian McTaggart are reporters for
Read More: C.J. Cron, Huston Street, Hector Santiago, David Freese, Carlos Perez, Hank Conger, Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers