ANAHEIM, Calif. — Will Harris struck out the side with just nine pitches, and then the glowering Houston reliever did something even rarer than an immaculate inning.
“Will never smiles — ever — on the field,” Alex Bregman said. “He’s always in a bad mood. That was the first time I’ve ever seen him smile on a baseball field.”
The Astros are accomplishing all sorts of unprecedented feats on their way to October, and their latest win left them grinning about the chance for at least one additional playoff game at home.
Bregman hit his 41st homer, Michael Brantley added a three-run shot in the eighth inning and Houston clinched home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs with a 4-0 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night.
Rookie Jose Urquidy (2-1) pitched six innings of three-hit ball and Harris threw the sixth immaculate inning in franchise history during the 10th win in 12 games for Houston (105-55), which extended its franchise record for victories.
The AL West champion Astros clinched home field in a potential AL Championship Series against the Yankees (103-57). Houston won four of seven over New York during the regular season to claim the tiebreaker.
ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Los Angeles Angels made nine pitching changes, including seven in a four-inning span. Those pitchers grinded and fought and managed to keep the mighty Astros scoreless when they loaded the bases three times in the final five innings.
The Angels refused to play like a team with nothing to play for, and that’s why Houston’s celebration of the AL’s best record has to wait at least another day.
Kaleb Cowart scored when Kyle Tucker made an error on Andrelton Simmons’ two-out grounder in the 12th inning, and the Angels prevented the Astros from clinching homefield advantage throughout the AL playoffs with a 4-3 victory Thursday night.
Cowart drew a walk from Joe Biagini (3-2) leading off the 12th for Los Angeles, and he eventually reached third on a groundout. Tucker then failed to handle Simmons’ hot grounder to first, ending the Angels’ fourth walkoff win of the season.
When asked about his plan for his final at-bat, Simmons replied: “Send everybody home.”
“Everybody did a fantastic job,” he added. “We’re looking to finish strong. We’ve got to look forward for next year, so everybody has got to do their job and we’ve got to finish on a high note.”
Josh Reddick tied his career high with his fifth hit in the 12th for the Astros, who stranded a season-high 17 runners while losing for only the second time in 11 games.
Despite the loss, the Astros (104-55) are two games ahead of the Yankees (102-57), who didn’t play, for the AL’s best record. Houston won four of seven over New York during the regular season to claim the tiebreaker.
The Astros are only one game ahead of the Dodgers (103-56), who have clinched the NL’s best record. Houston beat Los Angeles to win the 2017 World Series to claim its first championship, winning Game 7 on the road. If the Astros and Dodgers finish with the same regular-season record and meet in the World Series again, Houston would host Game 1 by virtue of its superior intradivisional record.
Trevor Cahill (4-9), the Angels’ $9 million ninth reliever, struck out Jake Marisnick to end the 12th, earning his first victory since July 2.
Kevan Smith had an early two-run double for the Angels, who used 10 pitchers for only the third time in club history and the second time this season.
Jack Mayfield hit a tying two-run homer and Tucker also homered for Houston, which fielded a lineup consisting mostly of backups to open their final series of the regular season. The Astros homered in their 22nd straight game, but stranded 12 runners in the final six innings alone.
“Especially in a one-run game, that’s a lot,” manager A.J. Hinch said of the 17 total runners left on. “We had our chances. A lot of at-bats, contact even to the outfield would have been good for us. Couldn’t come up with the big swing, or even the small swing to get someone across. They did at the end.”
The Astros loaded the bases with one out in the eighth, but pinch-hitter George Springer grounded into a double play. Houston loaded the bases with one out again in the 11th, but Tucker struck out and Aledmys Diaz grounded into a forceout.
Jaime Barria yielded four hits and three runs in the final start of his second big league season for the Angels before leaving with a blister on his right toe in the fifth inning.
“For the most part, I feel good about the season,” said Barria, who finished 4-10 with a 6.42 ERA.
Wade Miley yielded five hits and three runs in four innings for the Astros. The left-hander managed to get more than three outs for only the second time in five starts this September, but it was still another up-and-down effort in his bid to earn Hinch’s trust for a postseason rotation spot.
“There were a lot more positives than I’ve been getting,” Miley said. “I never lost confidence. I just went through a little struggle.”
Hinch was asked what Miley’s effort meant for his postseason role.
“We have a long time before we have to make any sort of decision,” Hinch said. “So after a walk-off loss, it’s not going to be a time where I assess anything.”
Jose Altuve got the day off to rest, and his replacement at shortstop came through in the fifth: Mayfield hit a two-run shot for the second homer of his late-blooming career. The 28-year-old infielder made his big league debut in May after six seasons in the minors.
Astros: SS Carlos Correa will sit out the final four games of the regular season to rest his stiff back, but Hinch is hopeful he will be ready for the division series. Correa also sat out Tuesday and Wednesday.
Angels: All-Star selection Tommy La Stella will return from his broken leg to be the Halos’ designated hitter on Friday, manager Brad Ausmus said. La Stella’s breakthrough season was interrupted by the injury in July, right before he could appear in his first All-Star Game. … Brian Goodwin left in the second inning with a back spasm after an awkward headfirst slide into second base.
Houston rookie Jose Urquidy (1-1, 4.63 ERA) makes his case for a postseason rotation spot when he faces Angels rookie Patrick Sandoval (0-3, 5.25 ERA), who is down to his final chance to earn his first major league victory in his hometown ballpark.
“It’s really important,” Harris said. “We play really well at home, so the less travel, the better. And we get more home games for our fans back in Houston. When you get this late in the season and you’re still playing for stuff, it’s nice to check boxes off, and we were able to do that again tonight.”
Houston will face either Tampa Bay or Oakland, who play Wednesday night in the AL wild-card game, in the Division Series. The Yankees and Minnesota will meet in the other ALDS.
The Astros also stayed one game ahead of the Dodgers, who have clinched the NL’s best record. Houston beat Los Angeles in the 2017 World Series to claim its first championship, winning Game 7 on the road.
If the Astros and Dodgers finish with the same regular season record and meet in the World Series again, Houston would host Game 1 by virtue of its superior intradivisional record.
The Angels (72-88) managed just three singles and didn’t get a runner to second base in their 11th shutout loss. Los Angeles would have to win its final two games to avoid finishing with the beleaguered franchise’s worst record of the 21st century.
Bregman led off the second inning with his ninth homer in September, picking up the 111th RBI of his MVP-caliber season.
The Astros had just one hit between Bregman’s shot and the eighth, where Brantley connected for his 22nd homer — his first extra-base hit since Sept. 9 — to deep center with two outs.
Harris struck out Kaleb Cowart, Matt Thaiss and Michael Hermosillo — who helped out by swinging at a probable ball — for the Astros’ first immaculate inning since 2004. Houston’s dominant right-hander has allowed just two runs in his last 21 appearances.
“I knew I had a pretty good idea where the ball was going,” Harris said. “When I struck out the first guy, I felt like I was going to strike out the side. It was kind of weird.”
Patrick Sandoval (0-4) finished his rookie season winless for the Angels, but still pitched two-hit ball into the fourth inning while on a 60-pitch count. The 22-year-old Mission Viejo native reached the majors in August as the 29th pitcher used by the Halos this season due to their numerous rotation problems.
“From the first outing, I think I did a pretty good job staying in the moment and letting my stuff play up here,” Sandoval said of his rookie season. “I had all the confidence in the world.”
Urquidy made his increasingly strong case for a once-unlikely postseason rotation spot with another strong appearance in September.
The Mexican right-hander has allowed just three runs and 10 hits over 18 innings in four appearances this month. Urquidy has outpitched veteran Wade Miley, who once appeared certain to get the spot behind the Astros’ big three starters. Manager AJ Hinch has said he won’t make his decision on the fourth starter until later.
Bregman went 1 for 3 with a homer and a walk in the home stadium of his top rival for the AL MVP award. Mike Trout is out for the season with a right foot injury, but the two-time winner leads the league in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and WAR, and is tied for the lead in homers (45). Bregman leads in walks, is third in homers and OPS, and has more RBI than Trout.
Astros: SS Carlos Correa’s availability for the AL division series will be determined during workouts next week. He has made only 11 plate appearances since Aug. 19, and he is missing the final week of the regular season to rest his bad back.
Angels: Tommy La Stella went 0 for 4 as the Angels’ designated hitter in his first appearance since July 2, when he broke his leg on a foul ball. La Stella was selected for his first All-Star Game appearance shortly before the injury, which ruined the reward for his breakthrough season.
Justin Verlander (20-6, 2.53 ERA) makes his final case for the AL Cy Young award when he faces Jose Suarez (2-6, 7.34 ERA) in the regular season’s penultimate game.