HOUSTON - Chris Carter has hit his fair share of no-doubt home runs this season and has never taken more than a second to watch as one began to sail out of the park.
That changed on Tuesday night when Houston's slugger hit his 32nd homer, a towering three-run drive in the eighth inning that lifted the Astros to a 4-2 win over the Oakland Athletics. He stood at the plate gazing skyward, still clutching the bat with his left hand until it was clear that the ball was destined for the train tracks atop the wall in left field.
"It was just pure excitement right there," he said with a smile.
Though reticent to admit it, Carter takes a bit more pleasure in coming up big in games against his former team, which traded him away before last season. He's done it a lot this season, homering four times in his last five games against the Athletics.
Oakland starter Jason Hammel had retired 10 straight batters when he was replaced by Luke Gregerson (3-3) for the eighth inning. Robbie Grossman reached on an error by first baseman Stephen Vogt with one out and Gregerson hit Jose Altuve with a pitch.
Carter then connected on a 90 mph fastball to put the Astros on top.
"He left one up for me," Carter said. "I was just trying to hit one in the gap there and I got it in the air."
Gregerson lamented the pitch to Carter.
"I was trying to go sinker, down and away," he said. "It started away, but it just ran all the way across the plate, down and in."
Josh Fields (4-6) pitched a scoreless eighth for the win and Chad Qualls did the same in the ninth for his 15th save.
The A's began the day tied with the Angels for the AL West lead.
Carter homered for the second straight game, and leads the majors with 19 since the start of July. Before the game, he received a plaque honoring him as the American League player of the week. His home runs are the most since Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee hit 34 and 32 respectively in 2007.
"I tell you what, he's putting together some kind of season and the home runs are getting bigger and bigger," Houston manager Bo Porter said.
Carter, who struggled early in the season before heating up, seemed puzzled when asked after the game if this is the best stretch of his career.
"Is that a real question," he asked.
Told it was, he continued.
"No. I don't think there's been a time like that in the majors," he said. "Maybe in the minors but not here."
Dexter Fowler hit a solo homer for Houston to cut the lead to one in the fourth inning.
Carter's shot ruined Hammel's best start since joining the Athletics in a trade from the Cubs. He allowed three hits and one run while working on extra rest - the A's skipped his last turn because they had two off-days last week.
Dallas Keuchel allowed five hits and two runs in seven innings to remain winless since July 30, a span of five starts. Carter's home run let him off the hook for the loss and he enjoyed watching Carter admire his shot.
"I was joking with him. I said: 'Dang, you really watched that one,'" Keuchel said. "It kind of reminded me of Manny Ramirez with the Red Sox back in the day."
Athletics: Manager Bob Melvin said SS Jed Lowrie (broken right index finger) and INF Nick Punto (hamstring) are both getting better and could be ready for rehabilitation assignments in the next few days. Lowrie was scheduled to play catch on Tuesday and Melvin said they'll see how "fast they can move with him" depending on how that goes. Melvin said Punto isn't able to run at full speed yet, but has been doing everything else.
Oakland left-hander Drew Pomeranz will be recalled from Triple-A Sacramento to make his first major league start since June 16. He has struggled in his career against the Astros, going 0-1 with a 13.50 ERA in two appearances against Houston. Brad Peacock will start Wednesday against the A's, making his fourth start since being recalled from Triple-A on Aug. 6.