Sports

Rays “Moore” Than Rangers Can Handle

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Matt Moore

By STEPHEN HAWKINS    AP Sports Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) _ Matt Moore was the ultimate wild card.
Making only his second major league start, Moore looked like an
ace in pitching seven innings of two-hit ball Friday as the
improbable Tampa Bay Rays opened the real playoffs with a 9-0
victory over the defending AL champion Texas Rangers.

Kelly Shoppach homered twice and drove in five runs, Johnny
Damon also homered and Tampa Bay dominated the whole way behind
their 22-year-old rookie pitcher.

The Rays played for the first time since their dramatic rally on
the final day of the regular season. Since Tampa Bay needed every
out simply to overcome Boston’s nine-game lead in the last 31/2 weeks
to win the wild card, manager Joe Maddon had to focus on getting
this far over trying to set up his pitching rotation.

When Maddon had to pick a rested starter for Game 1 of the AL
division series rematch, he had no qualms of going with the lefty
who made his first start last week at Yankee Stadium and struck out
11 in five scoreless innings.

And just that quickly, Moore has gone from top pitching prospect
to postseason phenom. Facing the AL’s top-hitting team, Moore
struck out six and walked two.

Rookie Brandon Gomes and Wade Davis both pitched a hitless
inning in relief to complete the first shutout in Rays postseason
history.

Game 2 is Saturday night. James Shields will start for the Rays
against Derek Holland.

Moore, who had thrown only 9 1-3 innings in the majors before
this start, took a deep breath before his first pitch. He was
smiling by the late innings and greeted by hugs and high-fives in
the Rays dugout after he had thrown his last pitch _ he threw 98 in
all, 62 from strikes.

No pitcher had ever started a postseason opener with only one
previous career start until the seemingly unfazed Moore took the
mound at Rangers Ballpark.

Having the youngster on the mound led to another important
decision for Maddon, who opted to go with the light-hitting
Shoppach behind the plate.

The catcher from nearby Fort Worth homered twice off Rangers ace
left-hander C.J. Wilson and matched a Rays postseason record with
five RBIs.

Texas and Tampa Bay have picked up where they left off last
postseason, when the visiting team won every game in their
five-game series. That’s the only time that has ever happened in
the majors.

The Rangers won that series, helped by Cliff Lee, and then went
on to beat the Yankees in the AL championship before losing to San
Francisco in five games in the World Series. Texas is only 3-9 in
postseason games at Rangers Ballpark, where they had never won a
playoff game until last year.

After Wilson hit Ben Zobrist with a pitch in the second, Damon
followed with a two-run homer to right that put the Rays ahead to
stay. What looked like a high popup by Damon just kept carrying and
hit the front-row rail just beyond the eight-foot wall.

Shoppach, a .176 hitter in the regular season, followed with a
single and later scored on a hit by Matt Joyce for a 3-0 lead. An
inning later, Shoppach hit a 410-foot homer to straightaway center.
Tampa led 8-0 after Damon reached on a two-out error by third
baseman Adrian Beltre in the fifth and Shoppach followed with a
415-foot homer to left.

Damon drove in another run with an infield single in the ninth.
Except for Josh Hamilton’s two hits, the Rangers _ who hit .283
to lead the majors for the second consecutive season _ never solved
Moore. They got only one runner to third against him.

After Ian Kinsler drew a two-out walk in the third, Elvis Andrus
had an inning-ending lineout to first baseman Casey Kotchman.
Hamilton had a leadoff double in the fourth, but was caught too far
off the base on Beltre’s grounder to shortstop.

Moore’s big league debut came on Sept. 14, exactly three years
after left-hander David Price made his major debut and helped the
Rays get to the World Series.

Wilson, another Rangers lefty, had taken over for Lee as their
No. 1 starter this season. And he had never lost to the Rays _
until Friday, when he gave up eight runs (six earned) and seven
hits over five innings.

His worst outing of the season came at the most inopportune
time.

On Sept. 6, Wilson had thrown a five-hitter for his first career
shutout at Tampa.

While Wilson had known for more than a week he would be starting
the playoff opener, the Rays didn’t even know they would be in the
playoffs for the third time in four years until Evan Longoria’s
homer in the 12th inning against the Yankees late, late Wednesday
night only minutes after Boston had lost.

The Rays rallied from a seven-run deficit to beat the Yankees in
that thriller. The win eliminated Boston _ on Friday, the Red Sox
said manager Terry Francona would not return next season.

NOTES: Moore, an eighth-round draft pick in 2007, was 12-3 with
210 strikeouts over 155 innings in 27 starts combined at Double-A
and Triple-A before being recalled by Tampa on Sept. 12. He was
eligible for the postseason because he was a roster replacement for
Alex Cobb, the right-hander who was put on the disabled list Aug. 7
because of season-ending surgery on his rib cage. … Shields
(16-12) allowed only one run in 17 innings while winning both of
his starts against Texas this season. He lost twice to Texas in
last year’s playoffs. … Holland (16-5) is 10-1 his last 15
starts.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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