ARLINGTON, Texas (AP)—When Matt Moore(notes) walked into Tampa Bay’s clubhouse for the first time a few weeks ago, catcher Kelly Shoppach(notes) knew who it was only because of the nameplate over the young pitcher’s locker.
The Texas Rangers certainly won’t.
Making only his second major league start, the 22-year-old rookie pitched two-hit ball Friday and the improbable Tampa Bay Rays opened the playoffs with a 9-0 victory over the defending AL champions.
Tampa Bay, which needed every out of the regular season simply to overcome a nine-game deficit to Boston in the last 3 1/2 weeks and win the wild card, had the ultimate wild card for the opener of the AL division series rematch in the hard-throwing lefty who was still in the minor leagues when the Rays began their late push.
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 less than 22 hours after being told he was pitching in the playoffs less than three months after pitching in the Futures game during the All-Star break.
“They didn’t give me a whole lot of time to get nervous and to think about it a lot,” Moore said. “I didn’t want to be out of it before I was in it. … I tried to be as normal, as normal and as calm as possible. And it was just a matter of getting comfortable, and there on it was throwing strikes.”
Moore had thrown only 9 1-3 innings in the majors before, including 11 strikeouts in five scoreless innings against the Yankees eight days earlier in his only other start. He was smiling by the late innings, and greeted by hugs and high-fives in the dugout after his last pitch—he threw 98 in all, 62 for strikes.
The Rays go for a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five ALDS with James Shields(notes) on the mound Saturday night against left-hander Derek Holland(notes). The Tampa Bay right-hander allowed only one run in 17 innings while beating Texas twice this season.
Texas, which went to its first World Series last season, won a franchise-record 96 games and finished the regular season with a six-game winning streak just to have home-field advantage.
Yet, the Rangers and Rays 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.
“That’s why the playoffs are so fun. You don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Josh Hamilton(notes), who had Texas’ only two hits off Moore. “Momentum, coming in from the season, is really shut down until you start playing the games in the postseason. Because you don’t know. Each game counts for itself. We’re not trying to win a division any more, we’re trying to win one game at a time.”
Moore took a deep breath before his first delivery, then was in total control for a team that already had played a month’s worth of tense games.
“You can’t be more impressed. What he did tonight was spectacular,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
“But these guys made it really easy for me, putting up those numbers,” Moore said. “It was just a matter of throwing strikes and getting out of the innings as fast as possible.”
Shoppach homered twice and drove in five runs, Johnny Damon(notes) also homered and Tampa Bay dominated the whole way behind Moore, who struck out six and walked two against the AL’s top-hitting team.
“We have been hearing about him for years. I was just confused on his name,” Shoppach said. “There is a lot of excitement for him to be here. We actually said the first of September, why isn’t he here yet? We could use him. But he’s handled himself well.”
It was a day of memorable pitching in Texas, where 6-year-old Cooper Stone tossed a ceremonial first pitch to Hamilton and then shared two hugs with his favorite player.
This was Cooper’s first game at Rangers Ballpark since July 7, when his firefighter father fell to his death trying to catch a ball thrown to him by Hamilton. Cooper went to the mound Friday with his widowed mother, Jenny, and Rangers president Nolan Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher.
After Wilson hit Ben Zobrist(notes) 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 8-foot wall.
“Johnny hitting that home run early kind of gave us all a chance to just breathe,” said Shoppach, who is from nearby Fort Worth.
Shoppach, a .176 hitter in the regular season, followed with a single and later scored on a hit by Matt Joyce(notes) 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(notes) in the fifth and Shoppach followed with a 415-foot homer to left.
“Once (Moore) got the lead, the kid took it to the finish line,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “He is a special kid. He really is.”
Wilson had never lost to the Rays—until Friday, when he gave up eight runs (six earned) and seven hits over five innings. He had thrown a five-hitter at Tampa on Sept. 6 for his first career shutout.
His worst outing of the season came at the most inopportune time.
“It was just some bad location,” Wilson said. “Today was rare, very rare. If you put today up against the rest of my games this year, it’s like a very rare game. … I had some decent speed on the ball, my cutter was OK, but my location was bad.”
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(notes), the right-hander who was put on the disabled list Aug. 7 because of season-ending surgery on his rib cage. … Holland (16-5) is 10-1 his last 15 starts. … Texas was shut out in a postseason game for the seventh time, including twice last year in the World Series.