ANAHEIM -- About the last thing the Astros needed Friday night was to face Shohei Ohtani of the Angels. It was the first game after the All-Star break, which meant the players had spent the previous four days spread out all over the country and trying to clear their minds from baseball.
Stepping into the box to face Ohtani isn’t exactly a soft landing spot for the second half, but the Astros were up to the challenge against an Angels team that looked like it hadn't played together in quite a while. Mauricio Dubón's two-run single in the sixth inning snapped a tie and Houston’s bullpen held the Angels to one run in 4 2/3 innings in a 7-5 win Friday night at Angel Stadium.
“The first one is always a tough one,” Dubón said. “You came in after [four] off-days and nobody’s seen live pitching in five days and facing one of the best pitchers in the league is kind of tough. Guys showed up and battled through.”
Here are three keys to Friday’s win.
There was probably a case to be made that Dubón was the most valuable player of the first half of the season for the Astros, who have been without injured second baseman Jose Altuve for most of the season and lost star slugger Yordan Alvarez for the final 28 games before the break.
Dubón stepped in for Altuve and has done a solid job, including a 20-game hitting streak earlier this season. He was 0-for-3 against Ohtani on Friday before delivering a two-run single in the sixth inning off Jacob Webb that put Houston ahead 6-4. He came around to score on one of José Abreu’s three hits.
“That was huge,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “With their offense, every run is important. That’s why he’s there, that’s what he’s getting paid for, and he’s been coming up big for us all year.”
The Astros took advantage of a mental error by the Angels to set up the three-run inning. With runners on first and second and no outs, Martín Maldonado popped a sacrifice bunt that dropped in front of first baseman Mike Moustakas. Jeremy Peña had to hold up for a beat at first base and would have been an easy out at second, which likely would have started a double play. Instead, Moustakas just took the out at first.
“We took advantage of a couple of mistakes,” Dubón said. “The bunt, that was a big break right there.”
Abreu’s three-hit night
Although he swung the bat better after June 1, Abreu’s first half certainly wasn’t up to his expectations or the expectations of the Astros, who signed him to a three-year, $58.5 million contract. So how can a 3-for-3 night at the plate with a walk set up Abreu for success in the second half?
“I think the biggest thing is I need to continue working,” he said. “I know what I can do and what I expect of myself. It didn’t happen in the first half because it wasn’t meant to be, but I know I need to continue working and be able to do the job for the second half.”
Abreu singled and walked against Ohtani before his sixth-inning hit that drove in Dubón to put the Astros ahead 7-4. He delivered another single in the ninth, giving him his third three-hit game of the season and reason to hope the second half will be better than the first.
“I haven’t been getting the results I’ve been wanting, but things need to change and I have to keep working,” he said.
Pressly stays hot
Astros closer Ryan Pressly ended the first half on a hot streak, having thrown 11 consecutive hitless innings in 10 games since June 18 while going 8-for-8 in save chances. So when he didn’t exactly feel like himself from the bullpen in the ninth inning Friday, he thought, “Uh oh.”
It didn’t matter. Pressly struck out all three batters he faced -- Ohtani, Taylor Ward and Mickey Moniak -- for his 21st save of the season.
“The results were good, but I felt awful. I’m not even going to sugarcoat it,” he said. “It’s one of those things you haven’t played for four days and you try to pick up right where you left off and it’s hard to do. You kind of have to go out there and trust your defense and Maldy behind the dish … and just make quality pitches and try to do the best you can. Today, it was awful. I hate coming back after the All-Star break. It’s not like I didn’t do anything [to stay sharp]. It’s just one of those things.”