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BOS@TB: Beckett hurls a one-hit gem against the Rays

ST. PETERSBURG -- The only way to reach base against a dominant Josh Beckett on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field was to take a changeup out of the dirt and squib it down the third-base line.

Reid Brignac managed that feat in the bottom of the third inning, the only hit of the night for the Rays.

Beckett was that good. The righty continued his dramatic resurgence with a one-hit shutout, leading the Red Sox to a 3-0 victory over the Rays.

It was the first one-hitter of Beckett's career, and it was a virtuoso performance that included no walks, six strikeouts and 97 pitches.

"That's about as good as you can pitch," said Terry Francona. "He didn't walk anybody. He threw [97] pitches. If it wasn't for that little three-iron out of the rough, that ball was off the dirt -- the infield hit ... He was tremendous. That was fun to watch."

Who knows how the game might have unfolded differently if Brignac hadn't reached on the squibber.

Cy Young pitched the only perfect game in Red Sox history, back in 1904. Beckett nearly missed that feat, retiring 27 of the 28 batters he faced.

"I squibbed one down the third-base line. .... I wouldn't think I would be the only baserunner," said Brignac.

Despite Beckett's mastery, it was a hard-fought contest.

Jeremy Hellickson stifled the Red Sox through six shutout innings, but the momentum changed when Dustin Pedroia ripped a one-out triple to right in the seventh. Perhaps Jacoby Ellsbury deserved an assist, preceding Pedroia's at-bat with a nine-pitch out that might have taken something out of Hellickson.

Rays manager Joe Maddon then made a completely reasonable move, issuing an intentional walk to Adrian Gonzalez. Kevin Youkilis, Boston's cleanup man, had hit into two inning-ending double plays a night earlier.

But not this time.

Youkilis had a game-breaking three-run homer in his bat instead of a DP. Boston's gritty third baseman jumped on an 0-1 fastball by Hellickson and deposited over the wall in left.

"He was throwing a lot of changeups," said Youkilis, wearing a Bruins' cap on a night Boston's hockey team won its first Stanley Cup since 1972. "My second at-bat, he threw me a lot of changeups, and then, the first pitch he threw me a changeup. He threw me a fastball, and I just told myself to sit back and try to hit a ball to the outfield. I got a fastball again, so I was really fortunate to get a good piece of it and get it out of here."

Maddon had no regrets with his decision.

"I'm looking for either a ball on the ground there or even a punchout," Maddon said. "[Hellickson] had really pitched well against him in the prior at-bat, so I felt good about that moment. Gonzalez is just at another level right now -- and not that Youkilis is not, because he is -- but for right now, I thought that was a much better matchup for us."

That burst of offense was all Beckett needed amid one of the finest performances of his career.

"I felt good," said Beckett. "They were hitting balls right at guys. That's nice, when you miss your spot and they still hit it at somebody. It was one of those nights."

The ace righty -- yes you can call him an ace again -- notched the fifth shutout of his career.

"I think we've always said, even though [Jon] Lester threw Opening Day, Beckett kind of leads that staff," Francona said. "Guys look up to him. Every time he takes that ball, we feel like we've got a great chance to win. That's a nice feeling."

It was Beckett's first shutout since July 12, 2009. Beckett is 6-2 and leads the American League with a 1.86 ERA. This, from a pitcher who was 6-6 with a 5.78 ERA in 21 starts last year.

"I feel good," Beckett said. "Health is a really good thing to have."

The Red Sox, as a team, are feeling quite healthy. With 10 wins in their last 11 games, Boston has a 40-27 record, the best in the AL.

It was a sweet win for the Red Sox, and an all-around good night for Boston sports.

"It's great right now, to be up 3-0 going into the third period," Youkilis said before exiting Tropicana Field. "That's huge. Hopefully they can just pull it off and I can't wait to see my boy Shawn Thornton up there in Boston holding the Cup."

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