ANAHEIM — The Astros were not looking for another setback to their lineup Thursday. Those plans went awry almost immediately.
The first pitch of the game from Angels lefty Reid Detmers hit Jose Altuve on the left knee, sending Altuve into visible pain. He stayed in the game for the half-inning but was replaced at second base in the bottom of the frame by Mauricio Dubón.
Already minus Yordan Alvarez (a right hand issue) and Michael Brantley (shoulder discomfort), the effects of their absences showed at the plate. After pushing across a pair of runs in the first, the Astros’ bats went silent at the plate until Jeremy Peña’s 10th-inning tie-breaking single sealed a series win against the Angels.
Ryan Pressly pitched two scoreless innings to preserve the 3-2 victory, greatly aided by Dubón’s diving catch on a Max Stassi soft liner for the second out of the 10th. Despite the recent abundance of injuries, Houston has won 22 of its last 29 and went 4-2 on the road trip.
“That was hard-fought,” manager Dusty Baker said. “We’ll take it.”
The All-Star break could not come soon enough for these Astros, especially with three of their most important hitters ailing. Altuve, who entered the night hitting .350/.471/.600 with six extra-base hits in 11 games in July, was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and is considered day to day. Baker said he was planning to rest Altuve regardless, along with other veterans, at home Friday against Oakland.
“He’s going to be sore,” Baker said. “[The pitch] hit him close to the bone on the side of the knee. I’m just hoping he’ll be OK for Saturday and Sunday.”
Baker commented before the game on the warm Southern California temperature, calling it “hitting weather.” Once Altuve reached and Peña drew a walk to open the game, the Astros appeared to be confirming their manager’s words. Alex Bregman swung at Detmers’ first offering and singled to left field to load the bases, before Kyle Tucker brought in a run with an opposite-field hit.
Houston had the opportunity to put the Angels in a deeper hole, but a popout, a run-scoring fielder’s choice and a miscommunication on signs led to an inning-ending out on the basepaths and an unsatisfying 2-0 lead. It took until the sixth for the Astros to place another runner in scoring position.
Korey Lee, replacing Martín Maldonado as the automatic runner to begin the 10th, advanced to third base on a deep fly ball by Dubón and scored on Peña’s single the other way.
“You want to be ready for the situation,” Peña said. “I was ready to put something in the air and get the run in.”
“He’s playing far beyond his experience and his age,” Baker said. “The situation didn’t bother him or get too big for him.”
Making his first start since being named an All-Star by his manager, left-hander Framber Valdez showed why, delivering an AL-leading 16th quality start of his 18 outings this season, as well as his 15th consecutive. He went six innings to protect an undermanned bullpen, recovering from a high early pitch count and a bout of wildness.
A 31-pitch third inning included one to Luis Rengifo that completely avoided Maldonado’s glove and went straight toward the back netting. Rengifo drew a walk and Jo Adell was hit in the foot to load the bases, before Valdez walked Jonathan Villar to force in the Angels’ first run. The next inning, Stassi singled and reached second on a Dubón error, was sacrificed to third and scored on a passed ball to Shohei Ohtani.
But Valdez was efficient after that, collecting his final six outs on just 14 pitches. He finished his stellar first half with a 2.66 ERA over 115 innings.
The short-staffed bullpen, beginning with Héctor Neris followed by Rafael Montero and Pressly, struck out seven over four innings. The only two hits allowed came against Neris.
Pressly, who has retired 24 consecutive hitters dating back to a blown save against the Yankees on June 23, continued his recent run of brilliance, a quick ninth inning giving Baker the option to have him stay in to close in the 10th.
“What helped was that [his] pitch count was low,” Baker said, “which permitted him to back out in the 10th and then we executed properly [on offense].”
A strikeout of Jared Walsh was followed by Dubón’s snag, which left Stassi’s bat at 59.8 mph. A passed ball was of little consequence, as Brandon Marsh went down swinging to ensure the Astros wouldn’t lose back-to-back games, something they haven’t done since June 10-11 against the Marlins.
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