HOUSTON -- At one point Monday afternoon, C.J. Wilson just decided he'd throw a knuckleball, in an actual game, for the first time ever.
"I was just out there having fun," the left-hander said.
And why not?
The roof was open, a nice breeze was making its way through Minute Maid Park and the Angels had a big lead, on their way to taking three of four from their youthful division rivals -- and Wilson, frankly, could do no wrong.
So with two outs in the seventh inning of a near-shutout, and an eventual 9-1 victory, Wilson called third baseman Ian Stewart over as the infielders tossed the ball around after one of his seven strikeouts, to let him know he'd start Astros left fielder Jesus Guzman off with a knuckleball, "because I was afraid he was going to get killed if he smashed it."
Chris Iannetta put down the signal for a changeup, trying to change speeds on a guy who doubled in the second and lined out to center in the fifth, and the crafty left-hander ignored it.
"I've been working on it," Wilson said of the knuckleball. "But it was the only pitch I've never thrown in a Major League game before. I've thrown it in warm-ups a couple times, so I was just determined at some point to filter it in there."
The knuckler, for the record, came in at 80 mph and went for a ball. The next pitch, a curveball, resulted in a hard comebacker that Wilson knocked down for the final out of the inning. And five batters later, Wilson had completed eight innings of one-run ball, six days after allowing six runs in 5 2/3 innings in his season debut against Seattle.
"Last week I pitched [terribly], so I was just determined to have a good game today," Wilson said.
All of his teammates could probably sympathize, because they entered Houston with an 0-3 record for the first time since 1992, after being outscored by 18 runs by the Mariners -- a team they'll face in a two-game set to finish off their first road trip.
But then they scored 11 runs on Friday, got a dominant outing by Tyler Skaggs on Saturday and were led by Wilson on Monday, who took the mound one day after Jered Weaver allowed a career-high-tying four home runs in a loss.
Wilson gave up four hits, didn't allow a run until Carlos Corporan's solo homer with two outs in the eighth and only walked one batter, L.J. Hoes immediately thereafter.
"In the Seattle series, we didn't swing the bat well, we didn't pitch well and we had a couple of guys on here and there, but it didn't amount to anything, really," second baseman Howie Kendrick said. "This series, it seems like we had guys on, we hit with runners in scoring position and the pitchers went out and put up zeroes for us."
The offense continues to wait on Albert Pujols, who managed a ninth-inning double, but continues to struggle with his timing and is only hitting .200. In the meantime, they got three RBIs from Raul Ibanez (his batting average up to .218) and Kendrick (.286). And they continued to get production from Josh Hamilton, who was named co-American League Player of the Week -- along with Twins first baseman Chris Colabello -- and then drew three walks for the first time in five years.
As Hamilton said: "You see more pitches if you don't swing at [garbage]."
Hamilton drew a first-inning walk against promising 23-year-old right-hander Jarred Cosart, then came around to score on Kendrick's two-run single. He walked again in the third, reached on an error by first baseman Chris Carter in the fifth and was intentionally walked by Brad Peacock with first base open in the seventh, just before a two-run single by Ibanez and a run-scoring single from Kendrick to give the Angels an 8-0 lead.
In the ninth, Hamilton drove in a run with a single up the middle, keeping his batting average at .500 through the first seven games.
"This is the real Josh," said Wilson, Hamilton's longtime teammate during his better days with the Rangers. "He's able to make good adjustments at the plate, where if guys aren't giving him anything good to hit, then he'll take the base hit up the middle or hit the ball the other way. The reason his batting average is so high right now is because he has hit balls up the middle."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.