BOSTON -- It was a rare and stellar defensive moment, and one that will have to be remembered in a loss.
The Red Sox turned their first triple play in 17 years on Tuesday night, but even with another home run by Jacoby Ellsbury and another encouraging start from Erik Bedard, it didn't add up to a doubleheader sweep.
The Sox fell to the Rays in the nightcap of a day-night twin bill, 6-2, giving the teams a split after Boston took the opener, 3-1.
"We didn't help [Bedard] a lot at times," manager Terry Francona said. "A couple of runs; it's not always errors. It's maybe extra opportunities, things like that."
Tampa Bay's Jeff Niemann has been terrific since coming off the disabled list on June 20, and he continued to roll, pitching a complete game while improving to 7-0 in 10 starts since his return.
It was the second complete game of the day for the Rays, after James Shields went eight innings in Boston's earlier win. Niemann threw 114 pitches and struck out 10 while facing four above the minimum.
"He pitched well. He only gave up three hits," said Ellsbury, who hit his second home run of the day off the big right-hander in the sixth. "I thought he did a good job mixing up various pitches. He has good stuff. He's locating, getting guys to chase."
As for Bedard, he again built his pitch count, this time to 102, and went six innings for the first time since being acquired from Seattle. His final line was strong: one earned run, seven hits and no walks allowed with six strikeouts. But a Jed Lowrie error in the second inning gave way to two early unearned runs, and a solo home run by Desmond Jennings in the fifth was the last run the Rays would need, though they added on in the eighth.
"I feel good. My pitch count is back up to normal," said Bedard, whose ERA in three starts with Boston is 3.38. "I'm just going out there and trying to keep the team in the ballgame."
Making the start at third base after Kevin Youkilis played the first game, Lowrie short-hopped catcher Jason Varitek on a throw home in the second inning with runners on second and third. One run scored on the play, and one batter later, it was 2-0 Rays. That frame was by far the most strenuous for Bedard, who needed 36 pitches to escape.
Lowrie partially made up for his first fielding miscue by starting a 5-4-3 triple play in the fourth -- the team's first since shortstop John Valentin turned one unassisted 17 years ago -- but that didn't help Boston's bats.
The only offense came in the form of two leadoff home runs: Varitek cut the lead to one run in the third with his eighth homer of the season, to the right-field corner, and after the Rays pulled farther ahead, Ellsbury led off the sixth with his 22nd. That again cut Tampa Bay's lead to one, at 3-2. It was Ellsbury's fourth RBI of the day after he drove in Boston's only runs of the first game with a three-run homer.
"We didn't get a lot of hits today," Francona said. "Fortunately, we ended up getting a win in the first game. They pitched us tough all day."
The rare triple-killing in the fourth was set up by two straight Rays singles. Lowrie needed to take just one step back on a ball hit by Sean Rodriguez to touch third before firing on to Dustin Pedroia at second, who finished the relay with a strike to Adrian Gonzalez at first.
"It was hit in the perfect spot," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It was a double play, but he was able to step on third base and just make it a triple play. It was just the imperfect storm for us."
Lowrie said that he had never even seen a triple play, and Bedard was pretty sure that was the case for him as well.
"It's probably the first time I've seen it," Bedard said. "I've seen it on TV, but to happen when I'm at the ballpark, and actually when I'm pitching, it's pretty rare, so it was fun."
As Niemann chugged on, Sox reliever Matt Albers was roughed up in his second inning of work, in the eighth. He was charged with three runs in the frame, two of which scored after Franklin Morales had replaced him. A double steal of second and home included a missed rundown by the Sox that was capped by another Lowrie mistake, when his throw home hit Ben Zobrist in the back as he neared the plate.
"I tried to get outside and create a throwing lane," Lowrie said. "Tek slid over, and I think [Zobrist] saw Tek veer out, because he was running well inside the baseline, and when he saw Tek slide out, I think he started running just slightly toward the outside lane, just like a magnet."