Sometimes your starting pitcher has everything working and can single-handedly win your team a game. And unfortunately, other times your pitcher can go out on the mound with nothing and turn in a horrific outing that puts your team in a huge whole. That was the case on Sunday afternoon.
The afternoon could not have started much better for the Rays. Matt Moore struck out two in a perfect first inning and the Rays went to work against A’s starter Tommy Milone in the bottom of the first. Milone struggles with control from the beginning of the game, and the Rays managed three consecutive walks against him to begin the game. Jeff Keppinger contributed a sac fly to give the Rays a 1-0 lead before Luke Scott was hit by a pitch to reload the bases. And the Rays would get them all in. Sean Rodriguez grounded an RBI single to extend the lead to 2-0 before Matthew Joyce did some damage lefty-versus-lefty as he laced a bullet 2-run single to right field to hand the Rays a 4-0 lead. Chris Gimenez grounded into a double play ball to prevent further damage, but the Rays had to be feeling awfully good about their chances.
Moore walked a batter and hit another in the second inning, but he was doing fine. There was no giveaway about what was about to ensue. Cliff Pennington singled for Oakland with 1 away in the third and two batters later, Moore walked Josh Reddick to give the A’s 2 on and 2 out. Yoennis Cespedes came up to the plate and took advantage of a Moore fastball up to hit an RBI single to get the A’s on the board. Then Jonny Gomes blooped a single, pulling the A’s within 4-2. And then Moore left another fastball up and moving towards the middle of the plate to Brandon Inge, and no major league hitter would miss that. Inge, not exactly the paradigm of a power-hitting third baseman, slammed a no-doubter shot into the left field seats, and suddenly the A’s had the lead. Moore seemingly got back on track with a 1-2-3 inning in the 4th. But with 2 outs and a man on second in the 5th, Moore allowed an RBI double to Gomes, and after an intentional walk to Inge, a 2-run double to Daric Barton on another fastball up to ballon the A’s lead to 8-4. Burke Badenhop had to come in to get out of the inning.
Moore went just 4.2 innings, allowing 8 runs on 7 hits, striking out 4 while walking 3. He threw 105 pitches, 62 strikes, but he just could not command his fastball. Moore’s stuff still looked electric on Sunday afternoon. His fastball was a consistent 95 MPH with movement and his secondary pitches looked great. But his lack of fastball command was an insidious issue. Hitters were fooled by his pitches’ great movement for a while, but when he started consistently missing they took advantage and bombarded Moore for the worst start of his young career. We knew that there would be growing pains for Moore- but this is getting crazy. However, his stuff is still there. He’s just run into a rut where his fastball command has been off too often. If Moore get simply get his command right, he will dominate like we know he can. But it is extremely disheartening watching him struggle like this.
B.J. Upton made it an 8-5 game with a solo shot off of Milone in the bottom of the 5th. Milone went 5 innings, allowing 5 runs on 5 hits, striking out just 1 while walking 4. But he settled down after the rough first inning and after the Athletics’ offensive explosion against Moore, he was in line for the win.
Burke Badenhop, Wade Davis, and newly called-up Cesar Ramos combined for 4.1 one-run relief innings, with the run charged to Davis, but Jerry Blevins, Ryan Cook, Brian Fuentes, and Jordan Noberto pitched shutout ball for Oakland as they won the game 9-5 and the series two games to 1. Milone improved to 4-2 on the season while Moore dropped to 1-2, but with a scary 5.71 ERA (and 5.05 FIP). It was frustrating for the Rays, who fell to 19-10, to lose the game and the series, but that can’t be their only concern: Desmond Jennings exited the game in the third inning with a left knee injury. The Rays need to hope that he won’t miss much time. The Rays have an off-day to gather themselves before they begin a 3-game with the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night.