ST. PETERSBURG — Justin Ruggiano drifted back, his Rays and the Red Sox scoreless in the seventh inning, eyeing the arching fly ball by Kevin Youkilis that was seemingly taking forever to come down.
First Ruggiano thought he'd be able to make the catch and have a shot at throwing Dustin Pedroia out at the plate. As it carried unexpectedly deeper, he revised, figuring the run would score but he'd be able to keep Adrian Gonzalez from advancing to second. Then again, when he reached back and his bare hand touched the leftfield wall.
"Once I felt the fence, it was over," Ruggiano said. "I knew I wouldn't get to that one."
As the ball went over the wall, the game was essentially over. As well as Jeremy Hellickson pitched for the Rays, Josh Beckett was even better for Boston, pitching too well for it to end any other way, a 3-0 win by the Red Sox before a gathering of 19,388 at Tropicana Field.
"It was a good pitch," Hellickson said. "He got it up in the air and got just enough of it."
The difference was the three runs, but the margin — in dropping the Rays to 36-32 and 41/2 games off the division lead — was much less. Pedroia got on when his one-out drive just eluded rightfielder Matt Joyce, who got turned around and made a late bid for a leaping catch and was a triple. "That was weird, man," Joyce said. "I don't know how close I was, but I felt like I was an inch away."
After what Rays manager Joe Maddon said was a no-brainer decision to walk Gonzalez in hopes of getting Youkilis to ground into another double play or strike him out, Hellickson was just a couple inches off on an 0-and-1 fastball, leaving it up and over the plate.
"Helly did everything right," Maddon said. "It was just the one pitch that got up a little bit. … He deserved a better fate."
Hellickson didn't have much margin for error.
Beckett held the Rays to one hit — heck, one baserunner — on an infield single by Reid Brignac in the third, a slow roller that hugged the line. He faced only 28 batters and went to only three three-ball counts in his 97-pitch masterpiece, pounding his fastball and getting some help from home-plate umpire Rob Drake.
How good was he?
"Well, he almost threw a no-hitter," Joyce said. "He had one ball hit hard (a liner to center by B.J. Upton) and it wasn't even the hit. So he was really dominating. … It's frustrating. As a hitter it's the most frustrating thing in the world when you get beat by that many fastballs. His fastball was really taking off and almost impossible to get on top of. He was staying at the top of the zone, and getting some calls his way so that made it even harder."
Said Brignac: "He was good. He threw the ball well. He was getting a few calls here and there, and that helps out a plus-plus pitcher like him. He's already got good stuff so it was challenging at-bats for all of us."
Hellickson retired 17 of the first 19, one himself on a pop-up that he nudged catcher John Jaso out of the way for, and got double plays after the two he didn't.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.