ST. PETERSBURG -- Fishing for the double play, the Rays came up empty during the latter stages of Wednesday night's marquee pitching matchup between two of the top right-handers in the American League.
The double play that didn't come to fruition -- along with a healthy dose of Josh Beckett -- added up to a 3-0 Rays loss to the Red Sox at Tropicana Field with 19,388 watching.
In defeat, Tampa Bay fell to 36-32 on the season and 4 1/2 games behind first-place Boston in the AL East.
Jeremy Hellickson and Beckett matched one another zero for zero and hit for hit through six innings -- as in one each.
Dustin Pedroia changed that in the top of the seventh with a one-out triple to right that saw Matt Joyce crash into the wall while making a valiant effort to haul in the shot. At that point, manager Joe Maddon made the decision to intentionally walk Adrian Gonzalez.
Based on the fact the Rays had turned five double plays in the previous 15 innings of the series, the strategy employed by Maddon looked sound -- particularly considering the fact Kevin Youkilis was the next hitter and he had grounded into two double plays in Tuesday night's 4-0 loss to the Rays.
"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."
Alas, the strategy backfired.
Youkilis squared up an 0-1 fastball from Hellickson and rerouted the baseball into the left-field stands for a 3-0 Red Sox lead, their first of the series.
"I thought it was a pretty good pitch," Hellickson said. "It was a little up and he got just enough of it."
The three-run deficit looked insurmountable considering the outburst came in the seventh coupled with the fact Beckett had his best stuff.
"If you get out of there with zero runs, that's what you're trying to do," Maddon said. "Just get Beckett out of the game, even if it's 0-0 in the 11th inning. Get him out of there. He was pretty impressive tonight."
Reid Brignac's infield single in the third proved to be the only hit the Rays could manage against the hard-throwing Beckett -- and Tampa Bay's only baserunner, as Beckett faced just 28 batters.
"[Beckett] was good," Brignac said. "He threw the ball well, and he was getting a few calls here and there. That helps out a plus-plus pitcher like him. It was challenging at-bats for all of us."
Boston manager Terry Francona had high praise for Beckett, who threw his first career one-hitter and his first complete-game shutout since July 12, 2009, against Kansas City.
"That's about as good as you can pitch," Francona said. "He didn't walk anybody. He threw 97 pitches. ... He was tremendous. That was fun to watch. Their guy was matching him pitch for pitch. Thankfully we got a hold of one, otherwise we might still be playing."
Hellickson pitched well in taking his fifth defeat of the season. Until the seventh inning, he had calmly peeled through the Red Sox's order seemingly with greater ease than James Shields, who pitched a complete-game shutout Tuesday night. Hellickson had used just 64 pitches through six innings and even managed to out-muscle catcher John Jaso to haul in David Ortiz's pop foul in the fifth.
"[Hellickson] has been throwing the ball great," said Johnny Damon, who saw his on-base streak end at a club-record 39 games. "Unfortunately, in the American League East, sometimes it comes down to one bad pitch. That's how the game was decided tonight, and we feel bad for him as an offense, because we couldn't get anything going."
"[Hellickson] let a ball up into Youkilis' swing, and that's where the home run came from," Maddon said, "but otherwise you can't criticize what he did tonight. He pitched really well.
"One pitch, the triple by Pedroia, and then the home run, that's two knocks right there. But there's no way you can criticize Helly for tonight's performance. That was outstanding. ... Helly just turned 24, he went toe-to-toe with heavy gloves with Beckett and he did not flinch."
Hellickson didn't like losing, but he felt good about the competitive aspect of the pitchers' duel in which he had taken part.
"It was fun," Hellickson said. "[It's disappointing] right now, but you have to tip your cap to Beckett. He threw good. We knew it was going to be a battle, and I know I have to bring my 'A' game facing a guy like that."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.