HOUSTON -- Josh Beckett, picked for the All-Star team earlier in the day, gave the Red Sox an All-Star performance Sunday in the interleague finale against the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
The right-hander fanned a season-high 11, including two whiffs of hot-hitting Houston All-Star Hunter Pence, in an efficient five-hit, 102-pitch, eight-inning performance.
And while the Sox could have made it easier on him, they made Beckett a 2-1 winner on Kevin Youkilis’ tie-breaking bases-loaded walk with two outs in the ninth inning off Houston closer Mark Melancon after an interesting move by Astros manager Brad Mills.
With runners at first and third and two outs, Mills had Melancon intentionally walk Adrian Gonzalez, filling the bases. It was the second walk of the inning for Melancon, who fell behind every hitter in the ninth, his only inning of work.
Melancon’s first three pitches to Youkilis were out of the strike zone. After throwing a strike, making it 3 and 1, Melancon threw ball four, a pitch not close to being a strike.
He got Darnell McDonald to bounce into an inning-ending forceout, but the damage had been done, and Jonathan Papelbon picked up his 17th save, preserving the win that improved Beckett’s record to 7-3.
The Sox had numerous baserunners, with several glittering opportunities to give Beckett a cushion. But they were unable to hit in the clutch. Through seven innings Boston stranded nine baserunners, seven of them in scoring position. Twice the Sox left the bases loaded, which they did again in the ninth.
Over that seven-inning stretch they were just 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, and that hit, a single by Yamaico Navarro, did not even produce a run.
In the eighth, manager Terry Francona played his best pinch-hitting card, sending up David Ortiz to bat with a runner at first and one out in a 1-1 game. But Ortiz grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, so he ended the trip 0-for-11 (and 0 for his last 21, the second-longest drought of his career).
But all’s well that ends well, which is how the nine-game road trip to National League cities finished up for Boston. The Red Sox won their final four games, going 5-4 on the trip and finishing interleague play with a 10-8 record.
THE LITTLE THINGS: Bad teams find ways to hurt themselves. And it’s often the little things that cost them.
The Astros are a bad team these days, owners of the worst record in baseball.
In the third inning, the Astros had a chance to get out of any budding trouble when Beckett tried to sacrifice with Jason Varitek on first and one out.
The bunt went right to Houston pitcher Jordan Lyles. The rookie fielded the ball and made a good throw to second, easily nailing Varitek. The relay throw to first by shortstop Clint Barmes was in plenty of time to get Beckett for a double play, but the throw pulled Matt Downs off the bag.
That prolonged the inning. And while Lyles did not give up a run in the inning, it took him 15 more pitches before he finally could notch the third out. He gave up a bloop single to Jacoby Ellsbury and walked Dustin Pedroia before retiring Gonzalez on a fly ball to center, leaving the bases loaded.
The extra pitches inflated his three-inning total to an alarming 51.
Maybe it was no coincidence he struggled in the fourth inning. And again a fielding miscue -- a throwing error by first baseman Brett Wallace on an easy forceout at the plate -- cost him a run and 11 extra pitches, boosting his total to 82, making it a certainty that the Astros’ generally incendiary bullpen would be called upon for multiple innings.
Mills was forced to lift Lyles after five innings, with Lyles having thrown 101 pitches. The score was tied, 1-1, when he left.
ANOTHER ACHE FOR YOUK: When Kevin Youkilis slid home on a botched bases-loaded forceout attempt at the plate in the fourth, Houston catcher Carlos Corporan came down with his spikes on Youkilis’ right foot after trying to corral a high throw.
Youkilis, already playing despite a bone bruise on his left ankle, a sore hip and other assorted aches and pains, got up gingerly after a while and hobbled to the Sox dugout. He stayed in the game but noticeably winced a few times while batting.