HOUSTON -- Collin McHugh won his third consecutive decision and combined with four relievers to handcuff the White Sox and send the American League West-champion Astros to their fifth win a row, 3-1, in Tuesday night's series opener at Minute Maid Park.The Astros (92-58), who clinched their first AL West
HOUSTON -- Collin McHugh won his third consecutive decision and combined with four relievers to handcuff the White Sox and send the American League West-champion Astros to their fifth win a row, 3-1, in Tuesday night's series opener at Minute Maid Park.
The Astros (92-58), who clinched their first AL West title on Sunday, began play on Tuesday 1 1/2 games behind the Indians -- who defeated the Angels late on Tuesday -- for the best record in the AL. The Astros have won eight in a row at home and are 34 games over .500, tying their high-water mark of the season.
"The division part is out of the way and now we can worry about winning games and keeping our eye on the big prize," said closer Ken Giles, who worked a scoreless ninth inning for his 32nd save.
McHugh (3-2), pitching for the first time since leaving his Sept. 8 start at Oakland after only three innings because of a fingernail injury, held the White Sox to one run and five hits in five innings to improve to 14-0 in September/October regular-season games since 2014. Will Harris, Luke Gregerson and Chris Devenski each threw a hitless inning in relief before Giles closed it out.
• Astros' bullpen hitting stride at perfect time
"Our bullpen stepped up," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I thought McHugh threw the ball really well. I thought his pitch-making ability was really good. I thought he made one mistake, to [Jose Abreu] for the double, but other than that he was in a pretty good rhythm, pretty good execution."
Abreu doubled home Yoan Moncada to give the White Sox a 1-0 lead in the third, but Jose Altuve hit a solo homer in the fourth off Lucas Giolito and Alex Bregman added an RBI double later in the inning to put Houston ahead, 2-1. Giolito (2-3) allowed two runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings.
• Giolito holds his own against Astros
"[Giolito] kept us in the ballgame, certainly. He gave us as many outs as he could," White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. "This is an excellent ballclub, and they put the barrel on the ball. He did a very nice job containing these guys as long as he did."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Altuve matches milestone: Altuve tied his career high (set last season) by going opposite field for his 24th homer of the season in the fourth. The homer was his 194th hit for the season, putting him six shy of reaching his fourth consecutive 200-hit season. Prior to Altuve, Hall of Famer Craig Biggio (1998) was the only Astros player to reach 200 hits in a season.
Escape artist: McHugh recorded two quick outs to start the fifth inning before giving up an infield single to Moncada and watching Abreu reach on an error by third baseman Bregman. But McHugh got Nicky Delmonico to pop out to end the inning, leaving the dangerous Avisail Garcia on deck.
"We made some pitches when we needed to," said McHugh, who made his 100th start with the Astros. "Had a better curveball today, better breaking ball than I've had in a while. Made a handful of mistakes, but for the most part, I thought we executed pitches really well."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Yuli Gurriel's double in the seventh inning was his 56th extra-base hit of the season, tying the rookie franchise record held by Hunter Pence (2007).
Gurriel was doubled off first base after singling in the third on an infield popup. With Gurriel at first, Brian McCann skied one to shortstop Tim Anderson, who was playing on the right side of the infield in a shift. Anderson caught the ball just beyond the infield dirt and popped a throw to first to get Gurriel, who had strayed off the base and couldn't get back in time.
The Astros successfully challenged a call in the eighth inning, leading to a run. George Springer, playing on his 28th birthday, was initially called out at the plate when he tried to score from third on Altuve's grounder to third, but the replay showed that Springer's left hand got a piece of the plate as he slid by the tag of catcher Kevan Smith.
"I told him I was proud of his hustle, and don't ever do that again until October," Hinch joked. "I don't need to see that again. ... Excellent play in itself. I'd like him not to do that."
Said Springer: "He told me to be smarter. I get it. But these games still count, and it's hard to not play hard. I'll just be smarter. I'll try not to do it again. Can't make any promises."
White Sox: Right-hander James Shields (4-6, 5.43 ERA) makes his 20th start of the season on Wednesday, and he has won consecutive starts after snapping an 11-start winless streak. Shields is 2-1 with a 1.70 ERA in five career starts vs. the Astros. First pitch is at 7:10 p.m. CT.
Astros: Right-hander Brad Peacock (11-2, 2.98 ERA) also will be making his 20th start of the season, and he has held opponents to exactly three hits in three of his last four starts. With 11 wins, he has matched his win total from his previous five Major League seasons combined.
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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.
Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com based in Houston and covered the White Sox on Tuesday.