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Wilson ties career high with 12 strikeouts

HOUSTON -- The scenes shift, the opponents change and sometimes the schedule even softens. But the Angels' trying ways hardly change. C.J. Wilson keeps letting innings snowball, Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols continue to slump, and the Angels perpetually struggle to put all the components together on the same night.

On Tuesday, against an Astros team that had lost six straight and 10 of its last 11, Wilson gave up five runs in the third inning, Hank Conger became the first catcher in franchise history to record three errors in one game, Pujols and Hamilton went a combined 0-for-7 with four strikeouts and the Angels lost, 7-6.

They're 11-21, after losing 10 of their last 13 games -- but at least they're saying the right things.

"We're fighting, we're battling," Conger said. "Even that game right there, we got down early in the game and we came back and kept fighting. We're a team. We're close-knit. We know that we're going to battle. Anyone can say what they want to say about us, but when we start rattling off wins and get it going here, we're going to look back and know we got it done."

Wilson gave up seven runs in 6 1/3 innings, but only two of them were earned. In a third inning that saw the Astros take a three-run lead, Conger bobbled a sacrifice bunt and threw low of shortstop Erick Aybar with Brandon Barnes hung up between second and third, helping pave the way for a five-run frame that was capped by Chris Carter's three-run homer.

Conger then aided another run in the seventh, when his throw to third on Robbie Grossman's attempted steal hit the bat of J.D. Martinez and trickled into the outfield. Martinez barely moved, so there was no interference call. And given how the rest of the game turned out -- with Alberto Callaspo's two-out, eighth-inning homer cutting the Angels' deficit to one -- the run it brought in was crucial.

"For the most part, C.J. did a great job," said Conger, the first Angels position player to have a three-error game since Maicer Izturis in 2005. "Today, I just wasn't able to back him up. Today really fell on me."

Really, though, there's plenty of blame to go around.

Wilson officially notched a quality start, tied a career high with 12 strikeouts and actually lowered his ERA to 3.86. But he also gave up seven hits and couldn't absorb the shoddy defense behind him in the third, his high 1-1 fastball to Carter going out for a two-out homer that put the Angels behind.

"It was a ball," Wilson said. "The way the wind was blowing out, he got enough barrel on it, and he muscled it over that short porch."

Mark Trumbo's first-inning three-run homer -- his team-leading ninth on the season and his sixth in the last eight games -- gave the Angels the early lead. But they let the Astros back in it, got only a solo homer by Howie Kendrick in the next six frames and went down in order in the ninth, helping the last-place Astros improve to 9-24 -- only 2 1/2 games worse than an Angels team with a payroll that's nearly seven times bigger.

"When you have the intensity we had today, you have a lot of chance to win a ballgame," Astros closer Jose Veras said after notching the save. "That's what these guys did. They didn't try -- they did it. We were hungry to win, and that's what it's all about. When you do that and the pitching can hold the game, you have a lot of chances to win the ballgame."

The Angels will have a lot of chances to get back on track over the next few weeks. Tuesday was the start of a 29-game stretch in which they'll have only seven games against a team (the Royals) that's currently above .500.

The way they're playing, though, the opponent hardly matters.

"This process of getting where we want to be is not going to happen in one game," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We have to come out here and look at the season starting tomorrow and we need to start building momentum and carry it from game to game. The only way it's going to happen is to play at a certain level.

"We still have the makings of what we see being a terrific club. We need to come out and grind it and not win or lose on whether you get a break or not."

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