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Rasmus' 2 HRs help Astros add to WC lead

HOUSTON -- Collin McHugh won for the fourth time in five starts by holding the A's to one run and four hits in eight innings, and Colby Rasmus hit a pair of homers to send the Astros to a 5-1 win in the series finale Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park.

The win moved the Astros 2 1/2 games ahead of the Angels -- and Twins -- for the second Wild Card in the American League in advance of a three-game series against Los Angeles beginning Monday at Minute Maid Park. The Astros also moved to within 1 1/2 games of the first-place Rangers in the AL West after the Rangers lost to the Mariners in Seattle.

"This is playoff baseball in September, and we're in the middle of it," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.

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George Springer broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth with a shot to left field off A's starter Aaron Brooks (2-4), scoring Max Stassi. Ramsus' second homer was a two-run shot in the eighth inning off A's reliever Barry Zito, who was appearing in a Major League game for the first time since Sept. 29, 2013.

Video: [email protected]: Rasmus cracks his second dinger of the game

"It's huge," Rasmus said of his homers. "We always know the A's are coming in and going to battle us well. Thankfully, I was able to a hold of a couple of balls and we battled them and held them down. [McHugh] did a great job today."

McHugh (17-7), who walked two and struck out eight, tied Dallas Keuchel for the team lead in wins, giving Houston two 17-game winners for the first time since Andy Pettitte (17-9) and Roy Oswalt (20-12) in 2005. McHugh is 10-4 with a 3.02 ERA in his last 10 starts.

"I commanded well, made some big pitches in some situations when I needed to and Stassi was great behind the dish," McHugh said. "We had a little communication issue early in the game, and we ironed that out, but overall he called a great game. He was solid back there. My hat's off to him."

Video: [email protected]: McHugh fans eight over eight innings

Springer homers: Springer, who missed 53 games after breaking his wrist when he was hit by a pitch July 1, homered for the first time since coming off the DL when he broke a 1-1 tie with his 14th homer. He had only two RBIs in his first 56 at-bats since coming off the disabled list prior to matching that with one swing of the bat.

"Every game counts, every hit counts, every runs counts," Springer said. "Any way I can get somebody home, that's obviously the goal." More >

Video: Must C Combo: Springer shines with the bat and glove

Barry's back: Pitching for the first time since 2013 -- and in an Oakland uniform for the first time in nine years -- Zito relieved Brooks to start the eighth inning. The former AL Cy Young winner and three-time All-Star surrendered a two-run homer to Rasmus, threw 26 pitches and lofted in a number of his trademark low-70s curveballs. Zito was selected from Triple-A Nashville on Wednesday after spending the entire season there, going 8-7 with a 3.46 ERA in 22 starts.

"Had all three pitches working for the most part, felt comfortable with all three, and it was good to go out there," Zito said. "I don't want to give up runs, obviously, but it's good to know it feels good out there. I'm ready to get ready for my next one, whenever that is. Definitely can take some confidence from this knowing I felt good out there." More >

Video: [email protected]: Zito pitches his first inning since 2013

"He's here for a reason, it's not just because he's Barry Zito. He pitched well this year for us and deserves to be here. But it is nice. You see him in the green and gold, he's made a nice career out of pitching in this organization and everybody's happy about him being here mostly because he deserved to be here." -- A's manager Bob Melvin

Vogt returns to A's lineup at DH

The Astros won consecutive games for the first time since Aug. 25-26 at Yankee Stadium.

Video: [email protected]: Hinch on McHugh, Springer in win

A's: After an off-day Monday, the A's return to the Coliseum to open a three-game set with the American League West-leading Rangers on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. PT. Sean Nolin gets the ball for the A's, coming off five innings of two-run ball in his last start, when he got a no-decision in a 4-2 A's win over the White Sox.

Astros: Keuchel, who gave up a career-high nine runs and 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings Wednesday in Arlington, gets the starts in the opener of a crucial three-game series against the Angels at 7:05 p.m. CT on Monday at Minute Maid Park. He's 13-0 with a 1.49 ERA in 16 starts at home this season.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. Chandler Rome is an associate reporter for