Matt Moore got fined a nominal chunk of change by Major League Baseball on Thursday for speaking out in favor of his friend on Twitter, and if that happens to be the going cost of honesty, he will accept it. One of the great byproducts of the 23-year-old's coming-out party this season with the Tampa Bay Rays is that no longer do the shackles of rookiedom or youthfulness keep him from telling his truth.
Like, say, about the inefficiency of the restaurant business.
"I like eating good food, but I don't like dealing with, 'Oh, it's going to be a couple minutes 'til your table is ready,' and the small talk that goes along with it," Moore said. "Like, coaxing the waiter to make sure they're not going to spit in your food. And, 'Oh, we'll take your drink order now,' even though I'm the type of person who knows what I want when I get there, so I'm ready to order first thing. And it's going to take, what, an hour and a half to eat dinner? If I'm at home, I can be done cooking and eating in like 45 minutes usually."
However Seinfeldian that may sound – Moore happily makes passing references to the show – it is an insight into the mind behind one of baseball's next great pitchers. Moore is a pragmatist, a utilitarian, a thinker at a position that demands clear-sighted consideration. He could be a thrower, what with a fastball that reaches the high 90s from a left arm that spins a slider and changeup, too. He wants more, and so he seeks it in varying places, one of which is at a nearby locker.
The friend for whom Moore had to open his checkbook was David Price, and the more he and Moore have gotten to know one another, the more they've realized their similarities go well beyond the arm with which they throw. Following Price's tiff with umpire Tom Hallion over the weekend, Moore took to Twitter and summarily crushed Hallion. This was little brother standing up for big brother. And Moore doing his little part to repay a debt.
This is how it works with the Tampa Bay Rays: success is a trust. It is passed down from a player before he moves on, to another team and a bigger contract, and the only way the chain of winning continues is if the new generation embraces what the old teaches. James Shields gave it to Price, and Price is giving it to Moore, and soon enough, probably sometime within the next calendar year when Price is likely to get dealt, it will be Moore's responsibility to give it to those who follow him.
When Moore arrived at the end of the 2011 season, was handed a playoff start after all of 9 1/3 major league innings and proceeded to shut out the Rangers for seven innings over 98 frightening pitches, he announced, bullhorn clear, that he was the heir. Everyone in the Rays' organization knew that, Price especially, and as he cottoned to Moore he saw their likeness. Moore grew up in a military house where, as he put it, "you didn't get two wakeup calls." Price's dad, Bonnie, made him punctuate yes and no answers with "sir," lest he get a smack upside the back of his head.
Because they understood one another and enjoyed each other's company, Price knew he could talk honestly with Moore. And so twice after difficult road starts last season, Price and former Rays utilityman Jeff Keppinger joined Moore in his hotel room to discuss the art and craft of pitching. Mechanics and stuff never came up. Moore is in that echelon with Price, Clayton Kershaw, Gio Gonzalez and Chris Sale, the left-handed starter with undeniable stuff.
They concentrated on the game – its pitfalls, its roadblocks, its vagaries on the mind. Keppinger revealed to him the approach of the hitter and Price how to counter them as a pitcher.
"It's the part of the game nobody ever will conquer," Price said. "It's just that tough. But whenever you can know what you're trying to do out there and be honed into the task at hand, to forget the pitch you threw before, the result you got from the last batter, that's when you can figure out what you've got to do."
After the last meeting, in Cleveland on July 8, Moore's season turned. Over his next 14 starts, he put up a 3.01 ERA. His walk rate and home run rates dipped, and his strikeout rate jumped. In his first full season, Moore topped 175 innings and averaged more than a strikeout per, flashing signs of what has materialized in 2013.
"One of the biggest reasons I can trust what David is saying is not because he's left-handed and around the same age as me but because he literally went through the same thing I have," Moore said. "He got called up at the end of one year, had a pretty decent run, had some ups and downs and came back. He's had the success and failure, and it makes it that much easier to listen to him."
The Rays build their organization differently than almost every other team, believing in the power of the culture. Problem children – Delmon Young, Elijah Dukes, Josh Lueke and, currently, Yunel Escobar – are welcome because the Rays know that it won't be just manager Joe Maddon who takes the responsibility of constraining them from their past. It is the truest sign that the Rays, with their bad TV deal, bad stadium and bad revenue streams, will look anywhere for talent.
Even in New Mexico, more than a mile above sea level. That's where scout Jack Powell went to see a kid from Moriarty High in the spring of 2007. The wind was gusting that day, and Matt Moore wasn't at his sharpest. Powell said he saw something anyway and asked cross-checker Fred Repke to go see Moore. Come draft day, Moore thought he was going to Chicago. The Cubs called him before the eighth round and asked him whether he'd sign for a certain six-figure number. Absolutely, he said. Chicago had the third pick in the round.
The Rays had the first pick. Seven rounds after selecting Price with the top overall choice, they took another left-hander: Matt Moore.
After five starts this year, Moore's ERA sits at 1.13, second in the American League, third in all of baseball. Over 32 innings, he has struck out 38 and allowed 13 hits. Opponents are hitting .121 off him. He has turned five major league lineups into the equivalent of a one through nine of nothing but pitchers.
"I have much more of a feel for pitching than I did at the beginning of last season," Moore said. "It's nothing mechanical. There's just natural growth. And I got to see James Shields go about his business for an entire year. And spend a lot of time with David Price, who won the Cy Young. What he's going through right now – I get to see how it might not be where he wants it to, but he stays on his grind."
Price has struggled. It's part of what got Moore so fired up. After the Rays lost the first five games he started, Price looked more like Price in his last start. To see Hallion take what looked like a blown call by him on a third strike and inflate it into an F-bomb-tossing controversy chapped Moore. Never mind that Price's reputation among umpires is dreadful because they see his demonstrative antics on the mound as showing them up. To Moore, Price's integrity and intelligence conquer any such minimal malfeasance.
"There is no part of him that doesn't want every single one of us to do good," Moore said. "And you can tell that by the way he cheers for his teammates. That's something I've picked up on. I'm trying to figure out how I can basically get more cheering out of my mouth. He's always on it. He always knows what to say. He stays in the game, and I think that's part of what makes him so smart about it."
Moore, then, spends all the time he can learning and emulating, because unlike Price, he's going to be here a while. Following the 2011 season, the Rays locked him into a contract that, if all three team options are exercised, could run through 2019 and pay him, with bonuses, upward of $40 million. Moore is likelier to be Evan Longoria than Shields or Price – a long-term Ray, which, it turns out, isn't an oxymoron.
So over the next seven years, Tampa or St. Petersburg or wherever the Rays end up will get to learn about Moore. They'll hear about how he appreciates his apple-beet-carrot-ginger juice – "I definitely do it for the micronutrients," Moore said, "the really fresh enzymes that come in" – as well as what he's doing with his teammates to be nouveau Price.
For now, Moore will do his best to throw like him, carry the Rays through their early-season mediocrity and thrust them toward the top of the AL East. He starts Friday in Colorado looking for his major league-leading sixth victory. Price will be on the bench, cheering loud as ever.
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