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CLE@HOU: Lopez crosses home on a wild pitch

HOUSTON -- Cleveland's starting pitchers learned the hard way that perfection doesn't come easy in dropping two of three games to the Astros at Minute Maid Park, including Sunday's 7-1 decision.

Saturday's starter, Jeanmar Gomez, was perfect through four innings. Then he hit the wall in the fifth inning, allowing four runs in an 8-1 loss.

A day later, starter Derek Lowe retired the first 11 batters he faced before giving up single markers in the fourth, sixth and seventh innings of Sunday's loss to the Astros in front of 21,191.

Lowe (7-6) went 6 2/3 innings, giving up eight hits, striking out one and walking one. It was an improvement over Tuesday's start, when he was tagged for seven earned runs in five innings against the Reds. He has allowed seven or more runs in three of his previous five starts and has lost his last three decisions.

"I'm happy that the month is over," Lowe said. "It was about as bad a pitching month as you can have. So I'm just going to take the positives out of this one and move on to [my next start in] Baltimore."

Indians manager Manny Acta, however, said he liked what he saw from the righty Sunday.

"I thought Derek did a tremendous job for us," Acta said. "He threw the ball well. He threw 16 ground balls and just two fly balls. Some of them went through, but the majority of them went to our infielders.

"He did just a fantastic job to keep us in the game. So he deserves a lot of credit. We just couldn't back him up offensively."

Astros third baseman Chris Johnson, who extended his hitting streak to six games with a 3-for-4 day that included his sixth homer of the season, also praised the effort -- especially early -- from Lowe. Johnson was 1-for-2 with an RBI single against the Tribe starter.

"He was really good, really good today," Johnson said. "His sinkerball was not up in the zone. That's our plan against him -- to get him up in the zone. He wasn't giving anybody anything up in the zone.

"Next time through, we kind of got him up in the zone. We were able to get some balls out in the middle of the field and get some base hits and get guys on and get some RBIs."

The Astros put the game out of reach with a pair of two-run homers in the eighth, long after Lowe's day was done.

As they did in the first two games of the three-game series, the Indians scored first.

Jose Lopez drilled a double to the power alley in left-center field to open the second. He moved to third on Michael Brantley's broken-bat roller to first and scored the first run of the game when Astros lefty starter and winner J.A. Happ (6-7) uncorked a wild pitch.

But as in Saturday's loss, the Tribe did very little afterward, managing just three singles over the final seven innings.

"We struggled, big time, offensively the whole series," Acta said. "When you score four runs in a three-game series, there are times when you don't even win a ballgame. To win one game scoring four runs in three games, we came out OK [considering] the way we swung the bat."

The Indians were trying to solve the mystery of left-handed starting pitching. Happ sent the Tribe down to their 15th loss (5-15) against lefty starters.

"If you look at the stats, the splits show you that we struggle against left-handed hitters because our best hitters hit from the left side," Acta said. "And only Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael Brantley have positive splits against lefties. We do struggle against lefties.

"You can't beat everybody and we do have a positive record against righties. And there are more righties than left-handers. Hey, we faced two tough [lefties] here and they beat us. If we're only going to lose against left-handers, which we're not going to lose every game, you win the division."

Acta said that the team is purposely built around left-handed hitting.

"So you can't complain when the lefties beat us," he said. "We're willing to live with it because the majority of the pitchers are right-handers. Our ballpark is better suited for left-handed hitters. Our division rivals, the Tigers, didn't have one lefty in their rotation. The White Sox only have one. And the Minnesota Twins had [Francisco] Liriano coming in.

"It's something you have to live with."

Acta will also have to live with the trade that was made Sunday which sent Red Sox infielder Kevin Youkilis to one of the Indians' division rivals, the White Sox.

"He's going to make them a better team," Acta said. "He's a very good hitter and a guy who's been there and done that. He adds to them. Obviously, it doesn't get any easier for us."

Youkilis was dealt to the White Sox for infielder Brent Lillibridge, righty pitcher Zach Stewart and cash considerations.

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