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The Boston Red Sox continued to be baffled by Rays right-hander Jeff Niemann, who fired a complete game en route to a 6-2 victory over the Sox at Fenway Park in Boston on Tuesday.
Niemann allowed two runs on just three hits and one walk while striking out ten to improve to 8-4 on the year.
The Rays’ pitcher has dominated the Red Sox lineup in his last two outings against the club. Niemann tossed nine innings of shutout ball against Boston, recording ten strike outs in the Red Sox 1-0, 16 inning win on July 17 against the Sox.
Jason Varitek and Jacoby Ellsbury knocked in the only runs for Boston, both smacking solo home runs in the loss. Varitek blasted a third inning Niemann offering over the right-field wall to cut Tampa Bay’s lead in half to 2-1, his eighth on the year. Ellsbury smacked his 22nd home run of 2011 in the sixth inning to bring the Red Sox deficit to 3-2. Jed Lowrie recorded the other Boston base hit with a third inning single.
The Red Sox presented a bit of defensive wizardry of their own, turning a rare 5-4-3 triple play to end a Rays fourth-inning attack. Upton and Kotchman both singled to lead off, but a Sean Rodriguez hot shot to the bag a third was scooped up by Lowrie, who stepped on the bag, fired a rocket to Dustin Pedroia, who finished the third leg with a perfect throw to Adrian Gonzalez at first. The triple-billing was Boston’s first triple play since July 8, 1994, when John Valentin accomplished the feat unassisted.
Trade deadline acquisition Erik Bedard put the offense in position to win, but an eighth inning bullpen implosion cost him a shot at his first victory in a Boston uniform. Bedard went six strong innings, allowing three runs, one earned, on seven hits and zero walks while fanning six to fall to 4-7 on the year. The outing was Bedard’s first quality start for the Red Sox, and lowers his ERA August ERA to 3.38.
Following a scoreless first inning, Tampa Bay jumped in front in the second by plating a pair for the 2-0 lead. Ben Zobrist and B.J. Upton led off with a pair of back-to-back singles, and advanced to scoring position when Casey Kotchman grounded out to second for the first out. Jed Lowrie committed a throwing error on a Rodriguez grounder to allow Zobrist to score the first run of the evening, before Matt Joyce grounded out 4-3 to score Upton from third for the second out. Bedard fanned Robinson Chirinos for the third out, escaping the inning with just two unearned runs.
The game remained scoreless until the fifth when Rays’ rookie outfielder Desmond Jennings smoked a two out Bedard pitch over the Monster in left to bring the score to 3-1.
Ellsbury’s sixth inning home run made the score 3-2 heading into the top of the eighth, but reliever Matt Albers surrendered a trio of runs to put the game out of reach. Johnny Damon singled to lead off the frame, but was retired when Evan Longoria reached on a 5-4 force play at second. Zobrist and Upton continued to be a thorn in the Red Sox side, with Zobrist singling to put runners at first and second for Upton, who promptly singled Longoria home for a 4-2 advantage.
Frankin Morales replaced Albers, but the pitching change proved fruitless. Zobrist stole home after Lowrie’s throw hit him, allowing Upton to advance to second on the play, before Kotchman drove in the Rays’ sixth and final run of the evening with an RBI single to center to score Upton.
The Red Sox return to action tomorrow, facing off against the Rays in the final game of this three-game set at 1:35 p.m. John Lackey (11-8, 6.13 ERA) toes the rubber for Boston, opposed by Tampa lefty David Price (10-10, 3.76 ERA)