Welcome, Matt: Rays rookie Moore dominates Rangers in ALDS opener
In his second career start, Matt Moore blanked the Rangers for seven innings
Relying on his mid-90s fastball, Moore threw 62 of his 98 pitches for strikes
The Rangers now must deal with Shields, Price, Hellickson ... and Moore again?
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Matt Moore Experiment began with a fastball: a 95 mph heater for a called strike on Ian Kinsler to start the bottom of the first inning. There was the perfect delivery, so smooth and effortless, that scouts and minor league gurus had been raving about for so long. And there was the magical fastball with the vicious late life, the one that turned Moore into the best pitching prospect in baseball.
The Matt Moore Experiment ended with a fastball: a 95 mph heater, grounded weakly to short by Yorvit Torreabla to end the seventh. And with that pitch, an October debut for the ages was complete: seven innings, two hits, two walks, no runs, six strikeouts.
"What he did tonight was spectacular," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of the phenom who dominated the Rangers in the Rays' 9-0 victory [Recap | Box Score] in Game 1 of the ALDS. "Even from the first inning, you saw where Kinsler was not comfortable with him in the first at-bat, and I really took that as a good sign. The fact that he was throwing strikes really made all the difference in the world."
There's a tattoo on Moore's left shoulder. The tattoo is of St. Michael -- "the patron saint of battle," Moore says. Facing one of the league's most potent offenses in their launching pad of a ballpark, pitted against Rangers ace C.J. Wilson, Moore was prepared for a grueling battle in Arlington, but in his first postseason start -- and second career major league start -- the kid shut down the Rangers with absurd ease. The 22-year-old already has three above average pitches, but against a lineup loaded with mashers who crush left-handed pitching, Moore cruised with his fastball (76 of his 98 pitches were fastballs). Texas advanced a runner past first just twice -- in the fourth and in the sixth. By the end of the game, the press box was already buzzing: Shields on full rest or Moore in Game 5? Tough call!
The Matt Moore Experiment was a tantilazing glimpse into the future. On a night like this, it's easy to look ahead to 2012 and beyond and imagine a rotation of David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, and Moore dominating the American League for years. But Maddon's great experiment -- no pitcher with as little major league experience as Moore had ever started a postseason game -- also showed why the Team of Destiny could be much more dangerous than anyone thought.
Yes, Game 1 began to turn dramatically in the top of the second inning, as the shadows started creeping in on the infield from the first base side. Johnny Damon, who had just six home runs against left-handers over the last two seasons, launched a 91 mph fastball from Wilson into the right-field seats to put the Rays on the board 2-0. ("Johnny's home run ... that was a huge relief for all of our offense," said Kelly Shoppach.) And yes, the dagger came in the top of the third, when Shoppach ripped a two-out, three-run homer over the center-field wall to make it 6-0. The ballpark went quiet as a church, and the rout was on.
But the big story here was the phenom who may very well carry the Rays all the way to the World Series. Just how far has Moore come? Last June he was in the Florida State League, off to an 0-7 start with an ERA north of six. Three weeks ago he was at Triple-A Durham. On Friday he looked like the Rays' best starter right now. Maddon didn't break the news to Moore until 6:30 p.m. Thursday night that he'd be taking the mound less than 24 hours later. "They didn't give me a whole lot of time to get nervous and to think about it a lot," Moore said.
"A lot of times you'll see pitchers come up with this great stuff," Maddon said. "You'll see 95, 97, 98. That's wonderful. But you have to be able to handle the moment. You have to have the right pulse or the right heartbeat. He does."
Make no mistake: the Rays are in for a battle -- in their five-game ALDS with the Rangers a year ago, the road team won all five games. The Rangers are too good and too talented to go quietly into the night. In last year's ALCS against the Yankees, Texas unravelled in an ugly Game 1 loss, then won three straight and beat New York in six.
But something big happened Friday night in Arlington. The Rangers still must face James Shields (2-0 with a 0.53 ERA in two starts against Texas this year), All-Star David Price, and AL Rookie of the Year frontunner Jeremy Hellickson in this series. And after that, if the series goes the distance? Who knows what Joe Maddon will do, but chances are the Rangers haven't seen the last of Moore.
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