It’s Fall 2011.
incredible improbable implausible miraculous has just happened.
The greatest night of baseball in MLB regular season history, had culminated in a playoff clinching walk off home run courtesy of Evan Longoria. The Tampa Bay Rays had just won the 2011 American League Wild Card spot.
That was September 28th, and the American League Division Series began just two days later, on September 30th.
The Rays top two pitchers, David Price and James Shields, had started must-win regular season games and would be on short rest. Winning game 1, however, was crucial to getting the upper hand in the brief five game set.
So, who does Joe Maddon turn to?
A 22 year old rookie, with just three games of major league experience under his belt.
A 22 year old rookie by the name of Matt Moore, the top pitching prospect in all of baseball, who had carved through minor league lineups like a sharp knife through soft cheese during his ascent to the majors. He had made his major league debut just over two weeks prior on September 14th, his first major league start came just a week before on the 22nd.
Game one of the ALDS took place in Texas. It was a rematch of the 2010 ALDS series between the Rangers and Rays in which the Rangers had taken the series in five. The Rays were out for payback. Would the rookie with the smooth delivery come through?
The offense, facing C.J. Wilson, went down in order to start the game and now it was the Moore’s turn to take the mound in the bottom of the first.
His first opponent was Ian Kinsler, who didn’t make things easy as he worked a nine pitch at-bat, ultimately resulting in an infield pop out. Moore would make everyone drool with his strikeout of Elvis Andrus and then came the matchup everyone had been highly anticipating, Matt Moore against a top Rays prospect from another era, Josh Hamilton.
Hamilton took the first pitch he saw and sliced it through the left side of the infield and into left field for a single.
That didn’t seem to bode well for Moore’s success, but in fact that was one of just two hits he allowed. Moore went seven strong shutout innings, yielding just two hits during alongside two walks, while striking out six. Meanwhile, the offense backed him up with more than enough support as his battery mate, Kelly Shoppach, went deep twice, and Johnny Damon added a blast of his own. The Rays would win, 9-0.
It was an astonishing performance that looked to set the tone for the rest of the series as the Rays still had their ace pitchers coming up. They were already being punched for the ALCS.
Things didn’t quite work out quite that way however. James Shields, who was coming off an exceptionally strong year (he was an All Star with a sub-3.00 ERA and eleven complete games, which is still hard to fathom) and would have expected to continue his great work in the postseason, got hit around the following night and the series was tied. During game three, David Price and the Rays were cruising until a disastrous seventh inning led to their downfall and a Rangers 2-1 series advantage. During game four, the Rangers mashed four home runs — three from Adrian Beltre alone — as they went on to take the victory, and advancing to the ALCS and eventually to the World Series where they lost to the St Louis Cardinals.