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Must C Clutch: Carter clubs go-ahead three-run homer

HOUSTON -- Chris Carter squared the ball up about as perfectly as one anyone could and would have literally sent the pitch from Oakland reliever Luke Gregerson out of sight had the retractable roof at Minute Maid Park not been closed on a steamy hot day.

Carter, who typically plays without showing any emotion, knew it was gone, too, taking a brief moment to admire his mammoth three-run blast in the eighth inning Tuesday night before circling the bases and eventually celebrating a 4-2 win over the A's.

"I was kind of joking with him," starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel said. "I said, 'Dang, you really watched that one.' It reminded me of Manny Ramirez with the Red Sox back in the day."

Carter is putting on the kind of power display that would make Ramirez take note. His go-ahead homer in the eighth inning against his former team was his 32nd of the season, giving him 19 home runs and 47 RBIs since July 1. It was also his second game-winning homer in a week, joining his three-run, tiebreaking homer in the ninth inning against the Yankees a week earlier.

Carter's five long balls off the A's are his most against any team.

"It's nice to come in clutch late in the games right there, down a couple runs or whatever," said Carter, whose homer traveled 439 feet over the railroad tracks above left field.

The homer quickly turned the emotions for the Astros, who had been shut down through seven innings by A's starter Jason Hammel. He held the Astros to one run and three hits before turning the ball over to Gregerson in the eighth.

The eighth-inning rally didn't even begin with a hit. Robbie Grossman hustled down the line and wound up being safe on an error when Stephen Vogt dropped a ball at first. Jose Altuve was hit by a pitch to put runners for first and second for Carter.

"That situation was created because Robbie Grossman busted down the line," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "They made the error, we were able to capitalize. But Chris Carter, I'll tell you what, he's putting together some kind of season. And the home runs are getting bigger and bigger."

Gregerson tried to throw a sinker down and away, but it came back across the plate into Carter's "happy zone," as Porter likes to call it.

"Not necessarily a bad location for a lot of guys, just not for him," Gregerson said. "One pitch can change the entire dynamic of the game."

And the mood of a team.

"Thankfully, Carter continued his power surge or we'd be kind of moping in here," Keuchel said. "It was nice of Carter to do that."

Keuchel, who lost a complete game Thursday when Brandon McCarthy threw a shutout for the Yankees, held the A's to two runs (one earned) and five hits in seven innings and was in line for a loss before Carter's heroics.

"He was vintage Dallas Keuchel," Porter said. "Seven strong innings, quality start, have us right there in position to win the ballgame and he continues to put together a great season."

Josh Fields (4-6) pitched a scoreless eighth for the win, and Chad Qualls worked the ninth for his 15th save.

"Obviously, I've had my trials and tribulations with Oakland this year, so it's nice to go out there and lock this one down for us," he said. "It was a big-time home run. Down one run and they've got Luke on the mound and I know he's been solid his whole career. Big-time home run for Chris and big win for the team all around."

The A's scored an unearned run in the first when Keuchel was charged with an error trying to field a bunt off the bat of Craig Gentry, who eventually scored on a Jonny Gomes single. They took a 2-0 lead in the fourth on an RBI double by Nate Freiman that scored Gomes.

The only run the Astros managed off Hammel came in the fourth inning when Dexter Fowler led off with his eighth homer of the season to cut the lead to 2-1. The 146 homers by the Astros are two shy of their total from last year.

"What I love right now is that we're pitching well and we're in each and every ballgame," Porter said. "As long as we continue to pitch, continue to play defense, when the offense does click, we have an opportunity to go on a really good run."

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