Two starts into his Major League career, more than a few Rays fans are mentioning "Matt Moore" and "ace" in the same sentence.
10/03/2011 5:32 PM ET
Moore making immediate impact
Rookie throws seven scoreless innings in Game 1 of the ALDS
By Bruce Lowitt / MLBPLAYERS.com
That's understandable, considering the opposition: the two winningest teams in the American League -- each a division champion -- and what the 22-year-old left-hander did to both teams.
Sept. 22 at Yankee Stadium: Five scoreless innings, four hits allowed, 11 strikeouts and a 15-8 win that snapped the Rays' three-game skid and pulled them within two games of Boston in the Wild Card chase.
Sept. 30 at Rangers Ballpark: Seven scoreless innings, two hits allowed, six strikeouts and a 9-0 win over Texas in the opening game of Tampa Bay's divisional playoff.
He was eligible to play in the postseason because he replaced right-hander Alex Cobb on the Rays' roster after Cobb went on the disabled list Aug. 7 following ribcage surgery.
Moore left the first game with a 13-0 lead and the second with an 8-0 cushion.
"It really takes the air out of the other team," Moore said. "It does make it that much easier when these guys are putting up that amount of runs because I can challenge hitters. If it's a close game, you don't want to challenge guys with fastballs as much."
His fastball is remarkable, not only because it routinely reaches the high 90s, but because he seems to throw it so effortlessly, making his changeup even more baffling. But there's more to great pitching than that.
"A lot of times you'll see pitchers come up with this great stuff," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "You'll see 95, 97, 98. That's wonderful. You'll see a decent curveball. That's great. Or a changeup.
"But you have to be able to handle the moment. You have to have the right pulse or the right heartbeat. He does. I haven't known him for a long time. I've had different conversations with him. He looks you right in the eye. His answers are straightforward. He already shows that he's very accountable. ... And this is like I know this guy from one handshake in the parking lot at Port Charlotte," Maddon said.
In fact, Moore wasn't invited to Spring Training this year.
Left-hander David Price, who made his Major League debut Sept. 14, 2008, exactly three years earlier than Moore, said the rookie southpaw is "above me where I was at the same time period. His changeup and his breaking ball, his slurve at 84, 85, 86. His fastball and his changeup are so good he probably doesn't need that breaking ball."
Moore was the 2007 New Mexico High School Player of the Year, but "I knew I probably wasn't going to go in the top 100 picks or so (in that year's Draft). I thought there was a chance I could go in the fourth or fifth round. After the fifth round, when I didn't get picked, I went to bed.
"On the second day the sixth round went by, and the seventh, and my stomach started to hurt a little bit. But before I knew it, the first pick in the eighth round popped up, and there it was."
He was the 245th player selected. Price was No. 1 overall that year.
A year ago, he had an undistinguished fourth pro season. He lost his first seven decisions and finished the year 6-11 with a 3.36 ERA with Class-A Charlotte. It certainly didn't presage this year's performance, a combined 12-3 and 1.92 ERA in 27 starts with 210 strikeouts in 155 innings at Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham before being called up Sept. 12.
Still, Moore probably couldn't have imagined he'd become the first pitcher to start a postseason game with only one Major League start to his credit.
"This is a different level I have never been to, and everybody here is really good," Moore said after beating the Rangers.
But as Rays designated hitter Johnny Damon said, "I don't think he realizes how good he is just yet."
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.