Sox blanked by Kazmir

Sox blanked by Kazmir

ST. PETERSBURG -- Three runs allowed over seven innings would've been good enough for a win in many places.

But not for Josh Beckett. And not against the Devil Rays.

The Red Sox righty pitched a standup game, allowing seven hits and fanning six, but his performance was overshadowed by a complete-game shutout from Rays starter Scott Kazmir in a 3-0 Boston loss at Tropicana Field on Monday night.

It was just the third time the Red Sox have been blanked this season, but Beckett -- and the rest of the Boston clubhouse, for that matter -- were quick to realize it wasn't a deficiency on the Red Sox's part, but merely a case of a pitcher on his game. And because of that, they were quick to praise the 22-year-old All-Star.

"That was impressive," said Boston manager Terry Francona. "He has the explosive fastball that we've seen from Day 1, but now he's mixing in that changeup and that slider. Some of those sliders he threw were about as good as I've seen."

Boston's lineup gave life to Francona's observation, mustering just two hits off Kazmir all evening. Manny Ramirez doubled to leadoff the ninth, and Alex Gonzalez extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a single in the third on a soft liner to left. Gonzalez's streak is the second-longest active of its kind in the Majors, two behind the Dodgers' Nomar Garciaparra.

But the night was more than just a "good" job on Kazmir's part. The team reached base just seven times, on two hits, two walks, two errors and a hit batsman. Kazmir notched 10 strikeouts, getting Jason Varitek four times and twice punching out Coco Crisp and David Ortiz.

"He's doing great and I'm happy for him," Beckett said. "He shut down one of the premier lineups in the world."

Right fielder Gabe Kapler echoed Beckett.

"He's a pretty impressive pitcher, one of the more impressive in the AL," Kapler said. "We saw very few counts go past two balls. He goes after hitters, and we have a lot of respect for him."

To his credit, Beckett pitched a solid game as well. If not for a few hung pitches, the game may have been an extra-innings stalemate between two starters in the groove. But three of the hits Beckett scattered went for solo home runs -- two from Ty Wigginton and one from Russell Branyan -- putting Boston in a hole, no matter how small, that it couldn't climb out of.

The three long balls Beckett allowed pushed his season total to 23, already quite a bit more than he had in all of 2004, when he allowed a career-high 16. He's currently tied with Kansas City's Scott Elarton for most surrendered in the Majors, but he still holds a very respectable 10-4 record.

"Solo home runs are not going to kill you, [but] in a game like this, they will," Beckett said with a shrug. "Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you. It was just frustrating, a few of the pitches. I might have gotten away with a few mistakes, but for the most part, when I made a mistake, I got hit. [Kazmir's] just pitching great. He pitched better than me, that's why they won and we lost."

For all their silence at the plate, the Red Sox still managed to steal the show on defense. In the second inning and the game still scoreless, Rays second baseman Jorge Cantu hit a bullet to the wall in right field. Kapler went racing after it, elevating just long enough to grab the ball before crashing full-speed into the wall, robbing Cantu of at least a two-base hit.

But Kapler brushed off the compliments at his locker afterward.

"You know, it was really more instinct than anything else," he said.

On offense though, instinct didn't carry very far. Boston, which is currently tied with the White Sox for second-highest team batting average in the Majors (.285), was stymied by Kazmir. Everything was there: The strong outing, the airtight and errorless defense, prior success at Tropicana Field, a stretch of 14 wins in 15 games.

Everything but the offense.

"Most nights, that's good enough," Francona said. "[Beckett] elevated a couple fastballs and [the Rays] took pretty healthy swings. He supplies the power, because he's throwing so hard, but again on most nights we'd be saying, 'He gave up three solos, but we're happy.'"

Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.