ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) None of the Los Angeles Angels' hitters spends more time in the indoor cage before regular batting practice than Albert Pujols. And it's been paying off for the slugging first baseman, who is finally enjoying a healthy season.
Pujols homered twice and Erick Aybar scored the go-ahead run on a safety squeeze in the eighth inning by Daniel Robertson, leading the Angels to a 4-3 victory over the Houston Astros on Monday night.
The Angels (36-35) moved within 4 1/2 games of first-place Houston in the AL West. Texas is three games behind the Astros, who have dropped three of four after winning five straight.
''Those are the guys we're chasing, so this is a big series. And to be able to win the first game is huge,'' Pujols said. ''I thought it was going to get away from us, but we just never gave up. Erick had a big at-bat and got on base, and we were able to execute on the bunt.''
Aybar began the winning rally with a leadoff single against Chad Qualls (1-4) and advanced on a wild pitch. One out later, Joe Thatcher walked pinch-hitter Matt Joyce while Aybar stole third.
In came Will Harris, and Robertson bunted up the first base line. Chris Carter charged the ball and made an errant, backhand flip past catcher Jason Castro as Aybar crossed the plate. Robertson was credited with his second RBI in seven games since his recall from Triple-A.
''It's a hard play to defend,'' said Pujols, who has won two Gold Gloves at first base. ''You can't break too soon from the bag because the guy from first could steal, and it's a safety squeeze. Obviously, it worked out perfect for us.''
Huston Street (3-2) struck out Evan Gattis to end the eighth and then pitched a perfect ninth.
Angels left-hander Hector Santiago allowed two hits over six innings, including rookie Domingo Santana's leadoff homer in the third, before handing a 3-1 lead to the bullpen.
Houston tied it in the eighth against Joe Smith on an RBI single by Castro and a run-scoring double by Jose Altuve.
Altuve, the All-Star second baseman and batting champion, was 1 for 3 after missing the previous four games because of a right hamstring strain. In the third inning, he sent a towering fly to the short fence in the right-field corner, where Kole Calhoun reached over and easily took a home run away from him.
''The thing I worry about most with a guy coming back after a layoff is strike-zone judgment. But he battled, and it was good to see,'' Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. ''I mean, he looked a little antsy early on, trying to swing at a lot of pitcher's pitches. But with the game on the line, I trust him as much as anybody to put a good at-bat together.''
Astros lefty Brett Oberholtzer allowed two runs, four hits and four walks in his sixth start of a season that has been detoured twice by blisters on his index finger.
Pujols gave the Angels a 2-1 lead in the fifth, driving a 1-2 pitch into the rock pile just to the right of the center-field trees after a two-out walk to Mike Trout. It was the first homer allowed this season by Oberholtzer in 28 innings to that point.
''I thought Obie battled,'' Hinch said. ''He did a good job of escaping some danger after four free passes and a hit by pitch.''
Pujols hit another two-out homer in the seventh off righty Josh Fields, raising his season total to 23 and his career mark to 543 - five behind Mike Schmidt for 15th place.
''I don't think about that. I'm locked in every day,'' Pujols said. ''Obviously, you want to have success every time you go to the plate, but it's impossible. So the best thing you can do is get yourself ready for the game and prepare yourself. Sometimes you're going to ride it for a while, and sometimes you get away from it for a while. Now I just feel good.''
The three-time NL MVP has 15 homers in his last 24 games. His 50th career multihomer game raised his career total against Houston to 48, breaking a tie with Hank Aaron for the most by any player against Astros pitching.
''I've been putting good swings on the ball all season,'' Pujols said. ''Even the outs that I was making, earlier in the year, I was hitting the ball hard. But I wasn't able to get any good results. And as a veteran guy, I know that it's a long season, and sooner or later you'll be able to figure it out.''
After striking out the side in the first inning on 16 pitches, Oberholtzer escaped a bases-loaded jam in the second.
Angels: An MRI on RHP Jered Weaver's left hip did not reveal any structural damage or tears, a day after he was put on the 15-day disabled list. ''He won't pick up a ball for five days, and then we'll just try to see where he is and move forward from there,'' manager Mike Scioscia said. ''I have a lot of confidence that we're going to see him get better, but right now there's no doubt about just trying to exhale a little bit and get him back where he needs to be.''
Astros: RHP Collin McHugh (7-3) is 14-3 with a 3.62 ERA over his last 24 starts after losing each of his previous six.
Angels: LHP C.J. Wilson (5-5) has allowed one run over 15 innings with 17 strikeouts in his last two starts - a 1-0 home win against Oakland and a 7-1 decision at Arizona.