Pu­jols adds two more home runs in vic­tory

Lineup change pays off and An­gels are within 41⁄2 games of AL West lead­ers. AN­GELS 4, HOUS­TON 3

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Gary Klein

Be­fore the An­gels opened a se­ries against the Hous­ton Astros on Mon­day night, Man­ager Mike Scios­cia said he would prob­a­bly keep Mike Trout bat­ting third in the or­der and Al­bert Pu­jols fourth for the rest of the sea­son.

“Un­less per­son­nel changes, which puts you in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion,” he said.

“With the group right here, I think it makes sense.”

It looked that way af­ter the An­gels’ 4- 3 vic­tory at An­gel Sta­dium.

Pu­jols slammed two home runs for the 50th time in his il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer as the An­gels pulled to within 41⁄2 games of the AL West- lead­ing Astros.

Pu­jols hit a two- run home run over the cen­ter field wall in the fifth in­ning against starter Brett Ober­holtzer to put the An­gels ahead, and then blasted another homer against re­liever Josh Fields in the sev­enth.

Pu­jols now has an Amer­i­can League- lead­ing 23 homers, 12 this

month. He has 15 homers in his last 24 games.

“It’s great, trust me, to be able to go through a few weeks like this,” Pu­jols said be­fore adding that he still must fo­cus on de­fense and help­ing the An­gels win “any way that I can.”

Scios­cia moved Trout from sec­ond to third in the lineup and Pu­jols from third to fourth on June 16.

Trout has grown ac­cus­tomed to Pu­jols’ power ex­ploits.

“Right now,” Trout said be­fore the game, “it seems like he’s squar­ing up ev­ery­thing he’s swing­ing at.”

The An­gels needed Pu­jols’ blasts and an eighth- in­ning, run- scor­ing bunt by Daniel Robert­son to hold off the Astros.

The last time the Astros vis­ited An­gel Sta­dium, they ar­rived with the best record in the Amer­i­can League and a five- game lead in the AL West.

The ques­tion in early May: Could the re­built Astros main­tain that level?

Nearly two months later, not much has changed.

They en­tered Mon­day night’s game against the An­gels with a 41- 30 record — the most wins in the AL.

Mon­day’s loss to the An­gels might just be a bump in the road for a fran­chise that lost 100 or more games in three con­sec­u­tive sea­sons from 2011 to 2013 but has led the di­vi­sion since April 19.

An­gels starter Hec­tor San­ti­ago ac­knowl­edged be- fore the se­ries that there was skep­ti­cism about the Astros in April and early May.

“We weren’t sure, but they’re in f irst place, have a lead, right now, they’re the team to beat,” San­ti­ago said.

The Astros en­tered Mon­day lead­ing the ma­jor leagues with 103 home runs and 665 strike­outs. They were f irst in the Amer­i­can League with 56 steals.

Their 3.65 staff earned- run av­er­age ranked fourth in the league and the bullpen ERA ( 2.56) ranked sec­ond.

Catcher Hank Con­ger, who was traded from the An­gels to the Astros last Novem­ber, said early media and fan skep­ti­cism about the Astros was not un­founded be­cause of the team’s pre­vi­ous strug­gles.

“But you re­ally look at this col­lec­tive group — it sounds weird — it just kind of clicks,” Con­ger said. “We have a good group of guys.

“We rely on the long ball as far as of­fense a lot, but I think our pitch­ing has been do­ing an out­stand­ing job.”

Con­ger said play­ers in the club­house have not been sur­prised by their suc­cess.

“Af­ter the first week or two that we played, I think guys kind of re­ally bought into, ‘ Hey, we have a re­ally good team. We can get on a good roll here and we can con­tend.’ ”

Jae C. Hong As­so­ci­ated Press

AL­BERT PU­JOLS

hits a two- run shot, the f irst of two homers, dur­ing the f if th in­ning against Hous­ton.

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