In the first inning we saw what Matt Moore could be if his physical and mental talents were to align, but we also saw, frustratingly, what currently holds him back.
He didn't make a perfect pitch to Mookie Betts, leading off the game, but it wasn't too bad. A fastball didn't quite get far enough up and in, but it did jam Betts, who still managed to line it into left-center for a hustle double.
Moore came back to strike out Josh Rutledge on only three pitches overpowering him with a fastball at the top of the zone, a curve that dropped below it, and a fastball on the bottom corner. Rutledge wasn't especially close to any of them. But then Moore lost the zone, with 3-0 counts to both Xander Bogaerts and David Ortiz that eventually turned into walks. A hung curve to Travis Shaw was hit for a single, scoring two runs.
With the Red Sox now spotted two runs, Moore found the zone enough to leverage his quality fastball (often at 94 mph, touched 95 mph) and devastating tight curve (although he missed high and armside a few times on curves that did not break) to strike out both Rusney Castillo and Blake Swihart (who swung at ball four).
Over only one inning there were 32 pitches, three strikeouts, two hits, two walks, and two runs.
After that, though, Matt Moore pulled himself fully together, and he dominated the Red Sox lineup. The next five and two thirds innings took 72 pitches, contained four strikeouts, no walks, no runs, and five hits. Moore had all of his pitches working -- he was able to locate the fastball well enough to stay out of trouble, and his curve, which he threw 33 times, was untouchable. He only threw his changeup ten times, but it too was extremely effective, with eight of the ten pitches going for strikes, and six of them being whiffs.
Maybe Matt Moore will never fully conquer that first inning. Maybe this game is as good as it's going to get. And maybe that's okay. But the big takeaway from this game and from Moore's last start was that while the fastball reaches the mid-90s rather than the high-90s, the rest of the stuff is all the way back for Moore. He's once more a pitcher we can dream on, that's pretty cool.
The Rays pulled one back in the top of the fifth inning. Logan Forsythe lead off and the first pitch he saw was a thigh-high fastball on the outer third. He jumped it and hit a very high fly ball off the top of the center-field portion of the Green Monster. A few feet to the right and it would have been an easy home run, but instead it went for a double, and the Rays turned to small ball. Asdrubal Cabrera bunted Forsythe over to third base, and Steven Souza Jr. flied a fastball out to right field to bring home the run (Brian Anderson rightly could not believe that the Sox and pitcher Henry Owens gave Souza a fastball to hit, as they were making him look foolish with their offspeed).
The Rays offense then continued its momentum in the next inning, as Shaffer lead off with a walk. Luke Maile was not bunting, but luckily he popped up, rather than hitting into a double play. I say luckily, because Guyer was hit by a fastball up and in, and Mahtook leaned far over the plate to line an outside changeup into left field and load the bases with one out. Evan Longoria made enough contact with a low fastball to fly it to right field, just shallow enough for Mookie Betts to think he might have a play at the plate. Betts air-mailed his throw horribly, bounced it into the stands, and two runs scored to give the Rays a 3-2 lead.
The Red Sox left Henry Owens in to face the Rays lineup for a fourth time, and the righties at the top of the order did not miss. Guyer doubled, and then Mahtook pulled a backdoor curve that probably caught too much plate over the monster to run the score to 5-2, and that's where it stayed.
Some other notes:
- Luke Maile is supposed to be a strong defensive catcher, but in the bottom of the second inning, he made an awful backhanded attempt to snag a Matt Moore wild pitch. Plays like that do not make the case that he is the long term answer at catcher (Luke Maile is not the long term answer at catcher)
- In the second inning, Bogaerts put a good swing on a pitch over the plate and lined it into left for a double. Then he made a pretty wretched baserunning mistake, thinking that a broken-bat bloop off the bat of Ortiz was going to fall in, he sold out and went for home. Brandon Guyer made a relatively easy sliding catch and doubled him off. That was good because the very next batter, Travis Shaw, hit a bloop into left that did fall in, but there was no runner to score.
- Brandon Guyer got hit by a pitch (surprise!), this one a fastball up and in. Went off his shoulder and then hit him in the hand. Ouch. That was league-leading, and Rays-history-leading #20.
- Very good double play by the Rays in the sixth. Rusney Castillo hit a chopper to third. Longoria had to wait on the bounce, but he fielded it with good momentum to get off a good throw to second, where Forsythe pulled off a very quick turn.
- In the seventh inning, the Rays loaded the bases with no outs. Then they grounded into a force at home. Then they grounded into a 1-2-3 double play (that Souza did his best to break up at the plate).
- Shaffer was made to look silly by anything offspeed on the outer edge.
- Souza was made to look silly by anything below the zone.
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