In the bottom of the second inning, Mike Napoli connected with an 0-2 curve and grounded it up the middle, a bit to the left of second base. Since Yunel Escobar was shaded to pull, there was no play to be made, and it found its way into center field for a single. Later on, in the bottom of the seven the inning, David Ortiz managed to work the count full, and then lined hard through the shift for a single of his own.
Those were the only hits the Red Sox would muster against Matt Moore tonight, and along with a full count walk by Dustin Pedroia that was immediately erased by a double play, they were the only time the Sox would reach base. Against the best offense in the major leagues by wRC+, and the team that sees the most pitches per plate appearance in all of baseball (4.05 according to FanGraphs, Rays are #17 at 3.83), it took Moore only 109 pitches to secure a shutout for the first complete game of his major league career. (That's 3.76 pitches per plate appearance, which would be sixth lowest in MLB, just above the Marlins, for anyone interested.)
There are smart people in the baseball analysis world who have serious doubts about Matt Moore's ability and future. They are worried by his decreased velocity this season, and seemingly poor control. I am happy in the knowledge that they are wrong. He had a rough stretch in the middle of the season but he's figured things out. He has velocity when he needs it. He has command when he needs it. He has a dancing fastball that can eat up good fastball hitters at 92 mph. And he has a changeup.
Tonight, according to Brooks Baseball, his changeup produced four whiffs out of 22 pitches (18%), which is good, but that far undersells its effectiveness. Of the four strikeouts he got, three were decided by a changeup and the Sox hitters almost never managed to put a good swing on the other changeups he threw. Moore was also able to command his fastball to both sides of the plate, up and down (but mostly down). He only threw a curve eight times all game, in large part because he didn't need to.
The young Red Sox pitcher gave, as expected, a Workman-like performance. After appearing pretty hittable and needing 33 pitches to get through the first inning, Brandon Workman recovered to pitch six strong innings, giving up seven hits (no extra base hits), walking two, and striking out four. What they got against Workman, the Rays manufactured.
Desmond Jennings lead off the game with a single. Workman had pitched him away the entire at bat, and finally Jennings just leaned out and flipped another outside pitch into right field. Unfortunately for the Rays (as they were about to string a few hits together), Jennings was caught leaning and picked off. Ben Zobrist then grounded up the middle, and Evan Longoria lined hard into the left-center gap for a single of his own to put runners at the corners with one out. James Loney brought Zobrist home with a fly ball into middle right field, and Zobrist scored easily on Shane Victorino's below average arm.
Yunel Escobar lead off the fifth inning with a walk. Desmond Jennings bunted down the first base line, moving him to second. Next, Zobrist hit a grounder into the hole between shortstop and third, and then beat Jose Iglesias's throw to first by a heartbeat to put runners on the corners. Although Longoria struck out swinging at a high fastball, Loney was able to bring the runner home for the second time tonight with a single smacked past first base.
The Rays tacked on one more run in the ninth inning when, with the bases loaded, Jennings hit a fly ball to shallow right center field. Matt Joyce at third base (correctly) showed no respect for Jacoby Ellsbury's arm, and came home easily with the throw that was both late and offline.
Some other notes:
- I'm pretty intrigued by Brandon Workman. His curveball is big and impressive (although it produced no whiffs and as I noted in the preview, hasn't all season), and at 6'5" he's pretty impressive, too. There's nothing special about his fastball, but he seems to have decent command of it. His changeup is still clearly a work in progress, and he rarely threw a sinker, but when he did throw the two-seam down in the zone, the pitch had good movement. The most interesting pitch from Workman, though, was his cutter, which with biting action at 88 mph was reminiscent of the excellent cutter Wade Davis developed out of the bullpen last season. I'm picturing Workman in a couple years pounding the bottom of the zone with sinkers, dropping his changeup and curve below the zone for more groundballs and a few whiffs, and then blowing people away with that hard slider and an occasional high four-seam to change the hitter's eye level. It's an unholy combination of Wade Davis and Roberto Hernandez, that could be better than the sum of those two parts. And in an Red Sox uniform, I could see Workman becoming pretty annoying.
- The radar gun went out in the bottom of the first inning. I found this very annoying, too. The gun came back on in the bottom of the second.
- In the sixth inning, Yunel Escobar bobbled the scoop on a groundball, but unphased, snatched the ball out of the air barehanded and fired to first in time to get the speedy Iglesias. It's nice to have him back out there.
- In the top of the seventh inning, though, Boston reliever Jose De La Torre came in and worked over Rays Escobar just about as well as a pitcher can. First he stuck a sinker with great tailing action toward Escobar right on the bottom inside corner of the strike zone, getting Escobar to swing over it. Then he placed a tight hard slider on the bottom outside corner for another swing and miss. Finally, he came back to the inside sinker, still down, but brought it just an inch or two more inside. Escobar swung, but he had zero chance of making contact. It was an impressive sequence. De La Torre stayed on to pitch two and two thirds innings before being pulled for Craig Breslow with one out to go.
- With two outs in the bottom of the seventh and David Ortiz on second, Mike Napoli hit a fly ball, not that high, to middle right field. I groaned in dismay, though, because the Fenway crowd roared. You'd think I'd have learned by now.
- During the long plate appearance that ended with a David Ortiz single, Matt Moore didn't throw a single curve ball down and away, the standard method that left handed pitchers use to attack left handed sluggers. The Rays had a heavy pull shift on, and I wonder if that impacted the pitch selection.
- Something strange happened in the Rays half of the ninth. According to Todd Kalas, a foul ball rolled over to Yunel Escobar in the on deck circle. He pretended like he was going to give it to someone in the stands, and then didn't, bringing forth a chorus of boos from the crowd, and a big smile to his face. De La Torre threw the first pitch up and in, brushing Escobar back off the plate, and the crowd cheered. I have trouble believing that De La Torre was actually upset of a souvenir foul ball, but it was a strange sequence.
- The Rays flashed the glove in the ninth inning. Zobrist made a great play on an Ellsbury grounder. He got an ideal read and took at least six steps back and to his left at the perfect angle, slid to stop the ball, popped up, pirouetted, and threw to first to beat Ellsbury by a half step. For the final out, Victorino reached for a very low changeup, but managed to line it hard, straight at Longoria, who made the catch before the camera caught up.