HOUSTON -- Having just shuffled through a tough six-game stretch that produced only one win, the Angels knew they were in for a test against the Astros this week.They passed the first one with high marks, topping the Astros, 2-0, to take the opener on Monday night at Minute Maid
HOUSTON -- Having just shuffled through a tough six-game stretch that produced only one win, the Angels knew they were in for a test against the Astros this week.
They passed the first one with high marks, topping the Astros, 2-0, to take the opener on Monday night at Minute Maid Park before they send Shohei Ohtani to the mound for the second game of the series.
In advance of Ohtani's start, they received a stellar outing from lefty Tyler Skaggs, who has been nearly unhittable on the road this season. The left-hander lowered his road ERA even more with seven scoreless frames, walking one batter and striking out three. For the year, he has allowed only one earned run on the road, spanning 18 1/3 innings. That's a 0.49 road ERA.
"That's what Tyler can do," manager Mike Scioscia said. "A lot of ground balls, controlled counts, had the good two-seamer pitch, good changeup, his breaking ball was there again. In contrast to some of the games he's struggled, he was commanding counts very well. A lot of weak contact. It was a strong seven innings."
The game ended on a bit of a surprising note, as an Astros ninth-inning rally was cut short when a safe call on Yuli Gurriel's slide into third was overturned for the final out. With runners on first and second, Gurriel tried to advance to third when the ball briefly got away from catcher Martin Maldonado on a pitch in the dirt.
"It's a tough way to end the game, but I can't fault Yuli for trying to be aggressive," Astros manager AJ Hinch said.
The Angels, who will face the top three ERA leaders in the American League during their series in Houston, managed two runs off Gerrit Cole, whose 0.96 ERA entering this start was the second lowest in the AL. Cole took a perfect game into the fifth before the Angels squeezed out a run on Kole Calhoun's base hit to right, and they added one more in the sixth behind Justin Upton's double, which scored Michael Trout from third.
Cole was good, but Skaggs was better. With a somewhat taxed bullpen and the losses piling up, Skaggs gave the Angels exactly what they needed. His outing was a massive improvement over his prior start, against the Red Sox, in which he allowed six runs over 4 1/3 innings.
He acknowledged that an abundance of changeups helped temper his pitch count, which has been an issue lately. In two of his prior three outings, he exceeded 100 pitches while not lasting past the fifth inning.
"I got a lot of one-pitch outs," Skaggs said. "I think the changeup and the two-seamer were very apparent.
"It was working. I was throwing it early and often. I think it's a huge pitch going forward."
In the next week, the Angels will play the two teams that met in the AL Championship Series in 2017 -- the Astros, who they're playing in Houston this week, and the Yankees, who they'll host this weekend. Monday's win helped the Angels further distance themselves from a 1-5 homestand that included a sweep by the Red Sox and a series loss to the Giants.
"Every day brings a tough game," Scioscia said. "Whether we're at home or on the road, we need to do things better than we've been doing this last week. And what was really encouraging was being able to come in to a park like this, with a team that obviously has a terrific offense, and to be able to make big pitches and get outs."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Right-hander Justin Anderson, a graduate of St. Pius X High School and an avid Astros fan as a youngster growing up in Houston, made his big league debut in the very ballpark where he spent so much time watching the game as a fan.
With approximately 50 friends, family and former teammates from the University of Texas-San Antonio watching from the stands, Anderson was called upon in the eighth inning, tasked with protecting the Angels' slim two-run lead. He recorded quick outs on Max Stassi and Josh Reddick, both pinch-hitting, before yielding back-to-back hits to George Springer and Jose Altuve. The inning ended when Anderson struck out Houston's No. 3 hitter, Carlos Correa.
• Anderson has homecoming to remember
"Working with [Maldonado], he did a really good job working with me back there," Anderson said. "That whole game plan was to listen to him, trust my stuff. I heard the crowd [during Correa's at-bat] and … I told myself, 'Hush them. Get them to be quiet.' And that's what I did."
Skaggs has thrown 15 scoreless innings at Minute Maid Park over three starts dating back to Aug. 26 of last season.
HE SAID IT
"We know that that team over there is a really good team. They're standing in front of us. They're in our way. They are the defending champs, and we know that. We had to send a message. I feel like we did that tonight." -- Keynan Middleton, who fanned two in the ninth en route to his sixth save of the season
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Astros' bid for a comeback in the ninth was thwarted abruptly on a tag play at third base that ended the game. Middleton threw an 0-2 pitch in the dirt, forcing Maldonado to scamper to his left to retrieve it. Gurriel attempted to advance to third and was originally called safe by third-base umpire Cory Blaser. A replay showed that Luis Valbuena got his glove down just ahead of Gurriel's hand.
Ohtani will take the mound for his first career start against the Astros on Tuesday at 5:10 p.m. PT. With another win this month, Ohtani can become the first player in Major League history with three wins and three home runs in April. Charlie Morton starts for Houston.
Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.