HOUSTON — In a tight game against a first-place team, Collin McHugh didn’t worry about giving the ball to the Houston Astros bullpen.
McHugh combined with four relievers on a two-hitter, rookie Alex Bregman homered and the Astros beat the Chicago Cubs 2-1 Saturday to remain 2½ games back in the race for the AL’s second wild card.
“They’ve all been lights out for about the last year-and-a-half, two years,” McHugh said of his bullpen. “I feel as confident as anyone giving them the ball with the lead.”
Marwin Gonzalez drove in a run with a third-inning squeeze bunt for the Astros, who trail Baltimore by 2½ games and Detroit and the New York Yankees by 1½.
Bregman put the Astros ahead with an opposite-field home run to right-center against John Lackey (9-8) in a two-run third.
“He’s been remarkable,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “We’ve been playing these playoff-type caliber games for a few weeks now, and he’s not showing any signs of this being his first time.”
After starting 1 for 34 following his July 25 callup, Bregman has eight home runs — all since Aug. 16. He went 2 for 4 and raised his average to .274 with 31 RBIs.
“I’m just trying to square the ball up,” Bregman said. “Baseball is such a game of ups and downs, and you’ve just got to stay even through the whole time.”
McHugh (10-10) won his third straight decision, allowing one run and two hits in five innings. Chris Devenski, Will Harris, Luke Gregerson and Ken Giles combined for hitless relief.
“Their pitchers were really good today. Give them credit,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “They were very good at hitting their spots and had good stuff.”
McHugh spoke with Hinch about the decision on a quick hook.
“He said, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this like a playoff game, and we’re going to get a win here,'” the pitcher recalled. “And that’s exactly what happened.”
Ken Giles survived a shaky ninth to earn his 10th save. He walked Anthony Rizzo leading off, and pinch-runner Matt Szczur advanced on a wild pitch. Jorge Soler struck out and Szczur crossed to third on Miguel Montero’s groundout. Giles then struck out Willson Contreras.
Lackey gave up two runs, four hits and three walks in six innings for the NL Central leaders, who are 90-51. He had been 2-0 in four starts since a July 23 loss at Milwaukee.
“I definitely haven’t had much luck with the wins and losses this year,” Lackey said.
Jose Altuve, in an 0-for-12 slide, followed Bregman’s homer by reaching on his second bunt single of the season, beating third baseman Kris Bryant’s throw.
Yulieski Gurriel singled him to third, and Gonzalez bunted to third as Altuve scored.
“Two bunts,” Lackey said, “you’d like for that not to cause you a game.”
Contreras’ fourth-inning sacrifice fly scored Soler, who beat the offline throw from right fielder George Springer.
Houston could have extended the lead in the seventh, but Springer was thrown out at the plate by when he tried to score from first on Bregman’s bloop single to right center.
Right fielder Jason Heyward threw to shortstop Javier Baez, who relayed to Contreras for the tag. The call by plate umpire Mark Carlson was upheld in a video review.
“I’m always confident that he is going to score from first base,” Bregman said. “I saw the bobble and thought there was a chance. It was worth taking a shot right there.
PEACOCK GETS NOD
Houston plans to starts RHPs Doug Fister, Brad Peacock and Joe Musgrove in next week’s series against Texas.
Peacock was recalled from Triple-A Fresno on Tuesday alongside RHP David Paulino, who lost to Cleveland in his major league debut Thursday.
“I think Peacock gives us the best chance to get into the game with a little more ease, Hinch said. “His pitch repertoire is a little more suited and an advantage over the Rangers over Paulino.”
The game was delayed several minutes between the second and third innings because of a medical emergency involving a fan in the stands near the Houston bench. First responders could be seen tending to the fan, and the Astros said the fan was taken to a hospital.
Astros: SS Carlos Correa missed his fourth straight game with inflammation in his left shoulder and remains day to day. Hinch said Correa continued to experience soreness, and that the early start time following a night game didn’t allow proper time for prep work. “Every time we want to put him in there we’re going to risk the next three or four days,” Hinch said. “So we have to be very strategic about we map this out.” … Hinch said the team believes Altuve is battling a 24-hour stomach illness and the infielder told him after the game he would be good to play Sunday. Altuve vomited several times before and during the game, Hinch said. … Altuve, bothered by a stomach ailment, was replaced in the eighth by Tony Kemp.
RHP Mike Fiers (10-6) looks to improve to 4-1 in his career against the Cubs when he starts Sunday’s series finale. Chicago starts RHP Jake Arrieta (16-6), who is 10-2 in 13 road starts this season. He will face Houston for the first time.