For the second consecutive day, the Sox received a dazzling performance from their starting pitcher. And, again, it wasn't enough as the bats sputtered in front of a Boston-heavy crowd of 32,363 at Tropicana Field.
Ace Josh Beckett, making his first start in nine days, fanned a career-high 13 batters, including seven of the game's first eight men who stepped to the plate.
"I thought Beckett was tremendous," manager Terry Francona said. "I mean, most nights he throws a game like that and we're feeling pretty good about ourselves. We just couldn't get anything going offensively."
Unfortunately, the powerful right-hander's performance was overshadowed, as Rays starter James Shields tossed a two-hitter in his first career complete-game shutout.
"It's not the first time he pitched pretty good, and it won't be the last time he outpitches anyone either," said Beckett, who was forced to miss his start last week due to a stiff neck. "I think he deserves a lot of credit for what he did. He did a great job."
Beckett was visibly upset about the loss, and he shouldered the blame for the Rays' early runs.
"I feel great [physically]," said Beckett. "Obviously, I'm not happy with the results today."
In the third inning, No. 9 batter Jason Bartlett singled and took a big lead off the first-base bag, drawing an errant throw from Beckett that sailed into the right-field corner, allowing Bartlett to score.
That run held up as the game's only tally, until the ace gave up a solo home run to rookie Evan Longoria in the seventh inning. The blast was the only earned run Beckett allowed in seven innings of work.
"He definitely was [lights out], especially early on," Longoria said. "He had his good stuff working. [The home run] was a curveball he just happened to leave up."
If Shields threw any of those, the Sox batters weren't nearly as lucky. The right-hander fanned seven and shut out a club that entered the series leading the Major Leagues in batting average (.302), doubles (55) and on-base percentage (.374).
The Sox's best chance to score came in the fifth inning, when Manny Ramirez drew a leadoff walk and stole his first base since 2005 with a diving headfirst slide into second base.
"He was just trying to make something happen," Francona said of the steal, Ramirez's first taken base in 434 games.
But the slugger's hustle was squandered, as Shields got Kevin Youkilis to ground out and fanned Coco Crisp and Jason Varitek to squelch the threat. Ramirez was the lone Sox batter to reach scoring position.
Although Boston entered the series with an American League-leading 128 runs scored, the club managed only four runs over the entire three-game series.
"Our offense carries a lot of our weight around here, and they haven't been," Beckett said. "So it's time for us [pitchers] to kind of start stepping in that direction. Maybe it's our turn [to start] pulling our weight."
After Dustin Pedroia's single in the first inning, the Sox couldn't drum up another hit off Shields until 15 batters later, when ex-Ray Julio Lugo connected for a hit to left field.
"He kept the ball down [and] did everything right," Pedroia said. "He pitched a good game."
So did Beckett.
"You have to win games like that in order to win championships," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "You think of the week of pitching we had to face ... those are championship-caliber pitchers."
Coming off a three-hit, eight-inning gem from Saturday's starter Clay Buchholz, Beckett was just the latest Sox starter to fall victim in the telling series. Even championship-caliber pitchers are vulnerable without the corresponding bats.
The Sox head into Monday's off-day having lost five straight games, their longest losing streak this season and something they didn't do once last year.
When asked if he thinks they need the rest, Beckett said, "Absolutely. A lot of our guys need that."
"It's unfortunate that a lot of our guys are banged up," he added.
Francona echoed the sentiment, saying except for a few pitchers who will get scheduled work in, the Sox will use the time to regroup and refocus.
"Hopefully we will use [Monday] to our advantage," he said. "That's the best thing we can do."
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.