July 17, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Carlos Pena (23) is congratulated by teammates in the dugout after hitting a 2-run home run in the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
Brian Anderson is never one to not say what is on his mind, but he had two simple statements for Matt Moore tonight as he took the mound: fastball command and command the fastball. While that report seems straight out of the Department of Redundancy Department, it is very much applicable to Moore. He has had several starts where he has come out in the first inning or two looking like the stud that everyone fawned over in 2011 only to completely lose his bearings in the following innings and watch him pitch himself and the team into trouble.
That happened again tonight but the experienced bullpen was there for the second straight night to bail out the starting pitcher but this time they were given a lead and did phenomenal job in preserving the lead on the way to a 4-2 win.
The offense surprised everyone by jumping out to an early 3-run lead taking a very aggressive approach to Josh Tomlin compared to the passive approach they took before the break against him. The Rays sent seven players to the plate in the inning and made Tomlin throw 26 pitches while Carlos Pena homered and Luke Scott tripled to drive in the runs. The Rays were able to scratch together just four more hits in the rest of the contest but four runs is all that is needed most games for a win as the Rays are now 39-7 in games where they score at least four runs.
That fourth run was a key insurance run in the game for the Rays if not a controversial one. Desmond Jennings stole second place on a call that could have gone either way as shown by this gif:
Jennings ended up scoring shortly thereafter as Jose Lobaton singled to drive him in. That stolen base was a big deal not only because it moved Jennings into scoring position, but because it was the first stolen base against Josh Tomlin since late September of 2010 and just the third stolen base attempted against him since the start of last season. Nobody attempted a stolen base while Tomlin was pitching in 2011 and Jennings was just the third runner to attempt one in 2012. The steal ended a streak of 41 straight games without allowing a stolen base.
Getting back to Moore, everything went according to plan in the first two innings. He retired the first six hitters on just 19 pitches while throwing 13 of them for strikes. The third inning was nearly as flawless except for losing grip of a curveball that plunked Casey Kotchman in the thigh. After three innings, Moore had thrown just 31 pitches, 21 of them for strikes, and had permitted just one runner to reach base. Then the fourth inning happened and the fastball command that was so prevalent in the first three innings up and vanished like a fart in the wind.
In that fourth inning, Moore permitted a lead-off single and then walked the next two hitters to load the bases. A sacrifice fly plated the first run of the night for Cleveland and a wild pitch took away the double-play but Moore struck out Carlos Santana and got Duncan to fly out to end the inning on his 27th pitch of that frame.
Moore enjoyed the 27 pitch inning so much he repeated the feat in the fifth inning. After striking out Kotchman, he walked Lou Marson, allowed first-pitch single to Shin-Soo Choo to set up two on with one out. Cabera flew out but Kipnis then singled to drive in Marson and the Indians' second run and Michael Brantle walked for the 69th time in this series so far to load the bases before Jose Lopez came within a few feet of hitting a grand slam to end the inning.
Moore came back out to start the sixth and walked Carlos Santana at which time Joe Maddon decided he had seen enough and handed the ball over to the bullpen who threw four innings of stellar baseball while allowing just one hit and struck out four. In fact, the bullpen needed just 49 pitches to record 12 outs and threw 34 strikes. So far in this series, the bullpen has thrown 9.2 innings of scoreless baseball allowing eight runners to reach base while striking out 11.
Moore's night lasted 90 pitches and 51 found the strikezone. He had 10 whiffs on the night, seven of which came from the 63 fastballs he threw on the evening. He threw his slider and changeup 27 times, 11 for strikes while spending most of the night in the upper regions of Dale Scott's interesting strike zone. A side effect of living up in the zone all night was that Moore failed to record a single ground ball out on the evening, something no other pitcher has done in 2012. The frustrating part was he was as awful in the final two frames with his location as he was impressive in the first three inning. Consistency continues to be the rookie's greatest hurdle.
The win coupled by the Boston loss tonight puts the Rays back in third place in the American League East and should the Twins beat the Orioles tonight, the Rays would be in second place in the division and pending the outcome of the Texas/Oakland game tonight, back in the lead for the second wildcard spot.