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CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist

Starting rookie Moore in Game 1 another smart decision by Rays


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Clearly, the most shocking thing about Tampa Bay's latest Boy Wonder, left-hander Matt Moore, wasn't that he stiff-armed a fantastic Texas lineup in only his second major-league start Friday.

It's that he came into the game 0-1 this postseason.

Yes. Somehow, the Columbus Clippers beat this guy in Game 1 of the Triple-A International League Championship Series.

"They must have had a big-league team playing against him," Rays All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria said.

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"I don't know, man," center fielder B.J. Upton marveled. "I know watching from center field, the way he locates his fastball and uses his breaking ball, it's tough."

Tough? Justin Verlander is tough. Roy Halladay is tough.

In the small sample size we've seen of this 22-year-old kid, Moore is out-of-this-world impossible.

In Tampa Bay's 9-0 bludgeoning of Texas in Game 1 of their Division Series, Moore threw seven shutout innings at one of the best lineups in the game in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the majors.

In his only two big-league starts, Moore has thrown 12 shutout innings against the Rangers and the Yankees, who lead the majors in runs scored, and struck out 17.

"I'm not surprised, to tell you the truth," Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said, his nose not even growing as he spoke. "He's got three plus-plus-plus pitches, he's got a great demeanor, he's able to repeat his delivery.

"To throw 15 scoreless innings against that bunch [17, actually], it's a little bit of a surprise. But it's not a shocker."

This merry band of Rays are something else.

They pull a triple play in Tuesday's must-win game against the Yankees.

They climb out of a 7-0 hole while facing the end of their season to win Wednesday's game against the Yanks.

Then manager Joe Maddon, unconventional as ever, pulls a rookie from Tampa Bay's overstuffed storage chest of fantastic young arms to throw at the Rangers in Game 1.

"He's a special kid," dazzled Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He really is."

The Rangers had never before seen Moore, which was part of Maddon's thinking. So, too, was the fact that Maddon felt comfortable Moore was mature enough for his moment, and the fact that the Rays thought a late-afternoon start would make it exceptionally difficult for the Rangers to get a read on Moore's pitches.

Plus, Maddon likes the idea of starter Wade Davis pitching out of the bullpen against Texas' predominantly right-handed lineup.

"I want to be made very clear: I was no genius with that," Maddon said. "That was a group decision among our scouts and our people. We had a great discussion yesterday regarding who we should start tonight and why, and the consensus was to start him.

"Believe me, I am not that smart. I had to get a lot of opinions on this one."

You bet there are a lot of smart folks working in the upper reaches of the Rays organization -- it's why they're here. This is the team that turned over its entire bullpen from last year, lost key free agents Carl Crawford (go easy here, he was good with Tampa Bay) and Carlos Pena and chopped their payroll down to $42 million for 2011.

That payroll is not even half of Texas' $92 million. And forget the other two AL playoff teams, Detroit ($107 million) and the Yankees ($5 zillion ... well, actually, $207 million).

Yet the Rays have arms coming up the pipeline the way Saudi Arabia has oil.

Moore is right out of the Francisco Rodriguez (Angels, 2002) and David Price (Rays, 2008) school of stupidly talented rookies recalled late in the season by playoff teams. Maddon, a coach with the Angels in '02, sees the parallels, though the first two were used as relievers.

Rodriguez was broken in slowly in the bullpen, and the Angels themselves didn't even realize quite what they had the first few times they used him. But he was a huge element in their World Series title.

Price was used out of the bullpen during Tampa Bay's '08 World Series run primarily because, while he had the stuff, his location was erratic and the Rays couldn't trust him to consistently throw strikes. Because of that, if they used him in relief and he was wild, they could get him out of the game quickly. If he melted down as a starter, the Rays were in trouble.

Because the Rays saw Moore as more polished than Price -- who started the 2010 All-Star Game, by the way -- they've used him as a starter in two key games, Sept. 22 in Yankee Stadium and Game 1 in Arlington.

Nothing like breaking a kid in gently.

"He's pretty good," Price said. "He's above me, where I was at that same time period. His change-up, his breaking ball ... it's really more of a slurve, 84, 85, 86 miles an hour. If he has his fastball and curve, he probably doesn't need the breaking ball."

Price had turned 23 in August when the Rays recalled him in '08; Moore is 22.

Longoria agrees that Moore is more polished than Price at that similar stage.

"In my opinion, he's got a little better feel for his secondary stuff than David did," Longoria said.

Moore throws his fastball at 96-98 mph and, as Price said, "He has easier gas than I did. He has the easiest 97, 98 I've ever seen. It never looks like he's overthrowing."

No other pitcher in major-league history had started his team's first postseason game with just one big-league start under his belt. And Moore became the youngest AL pitcher to start Game 1 of the postseason since Oakland's Vida Blue in 1971.

Moore grew up in New Mexico, was an eighth-round draft pick of Tampa Bay's in 2007 and entered this season ranked by Baseball America as the No. 2 prospect in the Rays' organization, right behind Rookie of the Year favorite Jeremy Hellickson.

And after his Game 1 smash-hit, we'll see him again this postseason ... um ... when?

The Rays have no plans to start him again against the Rangers. Hickey said that as he "recovers and is available," he'll be available to pitch maybe in Game 4 or Game 5.

Just another day in the life of the Rays, who've recovered from Wednesday's emotional high enough to need no triple play nor game-winning homer dramatics in getting liftoff in this series.

"I like boring," Longoria said. "I like boring, believe me. Especially when we take 50,000 people out of the game in the second inning.

"I can take that kind of boring."


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