HOUSTON (AP) - Mark Melancon has been the Astros' most reliable reliever this season.
The bullpen showed overall progress in the series finale against Boston, but it was Melancon who stumbled at the end of a 2-1 loss to the Red Sox on Sunday.
Melancon (5-2) gave up a bases-loaded walk to Kevin Youkilis in the ninth inning as Boston completed a three-game sweep. Josh Beckett (7-3) allowed five hits, a run and no walks while striking out a season-high 11 in eight innings for the Red Sox.
Houston starter Jordan Lyles avoided trouble through five innings, and Astros relievers Sergio Escalona and Wilton Lopez preserved a 1-1 tie into the ninth.
Melancon entered, and Drew Sutton drew a one-out walk pinch-hitting for Beckett. Jacoby Ellsbury followed with a single to right before Dustin Pedroia grounded into a forceout to leave runners at the corners for Adrian Gonzalez, the major-league RBI leader.
Houston manager Brad Mills and pitching coach Doug Brocail opted to intentionally walk Gonzalez, a .353 hitter, to get to Youkilis, who was batting .271.
``There's no doubt, that's not an easy decision,' Mills said. ``You're looking at these guys, and you put everything together, and I felt that if we're going get beat there, that's who we want to get beat by in that situation.'
Youkilis worked to a 3-0 count, and took a fastball down the middle for a strike. But Melancon missed on his next pitch, and Sutton trotted home with the go-ahead run.
``I just missed,' Melancon said. ``I got down in the count, and he was taking until I threw two strikes, and that just didn't happen. It's something that needs to be done, and I didn't do it.'
Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon struck out Carlos Lee and Matt Downs in the bottom of the ninth. Brett Wallace singled to right, but Papelbon struck out Chris Johnson to end it.
The 20-year-old Lyles made his seventh career start, and is still looking for his first big-league victory.
``It'll come,' Lyles said. ``I'm sure I'll get one, sooner or later. I've just got to control what I can control, try and go out there and make sure I'm ready for that start.'
Lyles retired the first seven hitters he faced before walking Jason Varitek in the third. Varitek was out at second on Beckett's bunt, and Ellsbury blooped a single into right center.
Ellsbury stole second, and Lyles walked Dustin Pedroia to load the bases for Gonzalez, who flew out to deep center to end the threat.
``I know his ball/strike ratio wasn't what it usually is,' Mills said of Lyles. ``At the same time, we really saw him battle through some command issues. He really did a good job of keeping the damage minimized and working out of those jams.'
The Red Sox took a 1-0 lead after loading the bases again in the fourth.
Varitek hit a bouncer to Wallace, the first baseman, who made a high throw to catcher Carlos Corporan. The throw brought Corporan off the plate, and Youkilis slid home under him.
Wallace atoned for his error with a leadoff double in the Astros' half of the fifth. Houston came in leading the majors with 175 doubles. Two outs later, Angel Sanchez pinch-hit for Lyles and tied it with a single up the middle.
The left-handed Escalona, who gave up two runs in Friday's 7-5 loss, started the seventh for Houston. Ellsbury walked and Pedroia singled, but Escalona got Gonzalez to roll into a double play.
Youkilis flew out to center field, and Escalona pumped his fist as the team ran off the field.
Josh Reddick drew a one-out walk in the eighth, and Mills brought in Wilton Lopez to replace Escalona. Pinch hitter David Ortiz then grounded into a double play.
``Our bullpen did a really good job,' Mills said. ``Escalona got some really big outs for us, Lopez came in and did a good job for us.'
Melancon has converted 6 of 9 save opportunities this season, and came into the ninth with a 3.08 ERA. He got Varitek to ground out before Sutton started the Boston rally with the walk.
Notes: Four Red Sox players were named to the All-Star game on Sunday, including Beckett, David Ortiz at designated hitter, Ellsbury in the outfield and Gonzalez at first base. ... Houston's lone representative to the game is right fielder Hunter Pence. He was also selected in 2009, but didn't get on the field. ``It would be very nice to get in the game,' he said. ``Last time I went in '09 and didn't get to play, it's kind of an empty feeling a little bit.' ... Astros CF Michael Bourn went 0-for-3 to have an 11-game hitting streak snapped.
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