ARLINGTON, Texas — Matt Moore went to the mound as the ultimate wild card.
Seven innings later, he walked off as a postseason ace.
Making only his second major league start, the 22-year-old rookie pitched two-hit ball and left with a huge lead Friday as the improbable Tampa Bay Rays opened the real playoffs with a 9-0 victory over the defending AL champion Texas Rangers.
“You can’t be more impressed,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “What he did tonight was spectacular.”
A minor leaguer until mid-September, Moore dazzled with his pitching and poise. He took a deep breath before his first delivery, then was in total control for a team that already had played a month’s worth of tense games.
“I may have looked a little more calm than I was, especially early. The first inning, I had a little bit of nerves and adrenaline going,” Moore said.
“But these guys made it really easy for me, putting up those numbers. Looking up there after the fourth, I think it was 8-0, it was just a matter of throwing strikes and getting out of the innings as fast as possible,” he said.
Kelly Shoppach homered twice and drove in five runs, Johnny Damon also homered and Tampa Bay dominated the whole way behind Moore.
Moore began this best-of-five matchup by striking out six and walking two against the AL’s top-hitting team.
When Maddon had to pick a rested starter for Game 1 of the AL Division Series rematch, he had no qualms of going with the lefty who made his first start last week at Yankee Stadium and struck out 11 in five scoreless innings.
No pitcher had ever started a postseason opener with only one previous career start until the seemingly unfazed Moore took the mound at Rangers Ballpark less than 22 hours after being told he was pitching in the playoffs.