ANAHEIM -- Left-hander Jose Alvarez has been the Angels' most consistent reliever all season, but he finally faltered on Tuesday night, surrendering a go-ahead, three-run double to Jose Altuve in the eighth inning that spoiled a brilliant start by rookie Jaime Barria and saddled the club with a 5-3 loss
ANAHEIM -- Left-hander Jose Alvarez has been the Angels' most consistent reliever all season, but he finally faltered on Tuesday night, surrendering a go-ahead, three-run double to Jose Altuve in the eighth inning that spoiled a brilliant start by rookie Jaime Barria and saddled the club with a 5-3 loss to the Astros at Angel Stadium.
The Angels took a 3-1 lead into the eighth behind Barria's seven innings of one-run ball and home runs from Justin Upton and Rene Rivera, but the Astros loaded the bases with one out after Josh Reddick doubled, Yuli Gurriel singled and Alex Bregman walked. That brought up Altuve, who fell behind 0-2 before hooking a low-and-away slider from Alvarez down the left-field line for a bases-clearing double.
"If it's another hitter, maybe he misses it or maybe he rolls over, but he's a good hitter," Alvarez said of Altuve. "I think it was a good pitch. Nothing you can do about it."
Alvarez entered Tuesday with a 1.47 ERA, but he hadn't pitched since Thursday because the Angels wanted to give him time to "recharge." He was summoned to pitch the eighth with two lefty bats due for the Astros, but he yielded the double to Reddick and then gave up a single to pinch-hitter Gurriel, who bats right-handed. The Astros had a string of four right-handed batters coming up, but manager Mike Scioscia decided to stick with Alvarez, even though right-hander Cam Bedrosian was warming up in the bullpen.
"Jose's one of our most reliable guys down there, against righties or lefties," Scioscia said. "Altuve hit a good pitch. That's probably the one guy you don't want to see in that situation there, but unfortunately he found him."
The Angels (25-16) missed an opportunity to surge ahead of the Astros and take sole possession of first place in the American League West. They will instead enter Wednesday's rubber game one game behind their division rivals in the standings.
The Angels also squandered an impressive outing from Barria, who held the Astros to four hits, walked none and struck out seven while throwing 96 pitches, 65 for strikes, in his fifth MLB start. Barria had bested Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole, who allowed three runs over five innings in his shortest outing of the season.
"I felt really good," said Barria, who lowered his ERA to 2.13. "I felt 100 percent. I was locating all my pitches and controlling the outside part of the zone. That's what helped me a lot."
Cole, a Newport Beach native and a former UCLA ace, brought a 1.43 ERA and the most strikeouts in the American League into Tuesday's matchup, but it didn't take the Angels long to get on the board, as Upton homered to give them a 2-0 lead in the first inning.
Michael Trout, batting leadoff in place of Zack Cozart, opened the inning with a walk before Upton deposited a hanging breaking ball from Cole into the bullpens in left field. Upton's 11th home run of the season -- and seventh in May -- snapped Cole's streak of 36 consecutive innings without allowing a homer. Upton is batting .323 for May with an MLB-leading 21 RBIs this month.
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"I think he's just seeing the ball and not missing pitches," Scioscia said. "There was a little bit of a dry spell couple weeks ago, he was getting a pitch and missing it. Right now, when he's getting a good pitch to hit, he's putting a good swing on it. He hasn't been missing."
The Astros pulled within one on Brian McCann's RBI single in the fourth, but Rivera restored the Angels' two-run cushion with a solo shot in the fifth. Rivera pounced on a first-pitch fastball from Cole, hammering it out to left field for his third home run of the year.
The Angels had an opportunity to expand their lead in the seventh, but they were turned away when Reddick made a great throw to nail Ian Kinsler at the plate. Kinsler reached on a one-out double off Collin McHugh and then was waved home by third-base coach Dino Ebel on Kole Calhoun's single to right field. But Reddick fired an 88.6 mph laser to catcher McCann, who tagged out Kinsler to keep the deficit at two. Reddick also threw out Trout in the fifth as he tried to advance from first to third on Shohei Ohtani's single.
"We stayed aggressive on the bathpaths and tried to keep pressuring them, but he did a good job in right field tonight and made two terrific throws," Scioscia said of Reddick.
Home-plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth departed the game in the third inning after Ohtani fouled a 99 mph fastball from Cole off his mask. CB Bucknor moved from second base to home plate to replace Culbreth, delaying the game for about 10 minutes while he put the gear on. Play eventually continued with three umpires on the field.
Angels starters have a 1.91 ERA this month, the lowest mark in the American League.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
After Bregman singled to lead off the fourth, Altuve drove a fly ball deep to center field, but Trout raced back toward the warning track and reached up to make a nice running catch at the wall. Trout then fired a strong throw to Kinsler to keep Bregman at first base.
HE SAID IT
"Altuve can hit everything. He's a great, great player. MVP because of the things he can do up there. The pitch was down in the zone, and I think it was off the plate, too, and he still got a double. Sometimes you have to tip your cap." -- Rivera, on Altuve
The Angels will send Garrett Richards (4-1, 4.08 ERA) to the mound Wednesday as they close out their three-game series against the Astros at 6:40 p.m. PT at Angel Stadium. Richards will be opposed by Houston ace Justin Verlander, who leads the Majors in ERA (1.21), WHIP (0.72) and opponent batting average (.146) and ranks fourth in strikeouts (77). Richards, who will be facing the Astros for the first time this season, has a 3.28 ERA over 71 1/3 innings in 14 career appearances (11 starts) against them.
Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.