On September 14th, 2011, the Tampa Bay Rays lost 6-2 to the Baltimore Orioles, dropping 4 games back of the Boston Red Sox in the AL Wild Card race. But taht day was known for something much more than the Rays’ loss: it was the major league debut of the Rays’ top pitching prospect, Matt Moore. Moore’s debut was inauspicious as he was inauspicous as he allowed 2 runs in 1.1 innings pitched. But he tossed 3 innings of 1-run ball his next time out, and then he exhilarated everyone in his first major league start. The Rays had lost the first three games they had played against the first place New York Yankees, watching their hopes at the Wild Card dwindle even as Boston continues to struggle. However, Moore turned the entire season around in his first career start on September 22nd, striking out 11 Yankees in 5 shutout innings, and the Rays went 5-1 in their final 6 games to beat out the Red Sox and make the postseason. And then in his second career start in ALDS Game 1, Moore threw 7 shuout innings against the Texas Rangers, making Rays fans know that something special was in the air. The 2011 season ended swiftly after that peak as the Rays lost their next 3 games to the eventual AL champion Rangers. But from that moment on, no one could doubt Matt Moore’s potential and his ability to change a team’s fate with his performance on the mound. The Rays hope that same thing is in the wings as Moore returns tonight.
The circumstances are wildly different, but once again, Moore is a September call-up for the Rays hoping to give them a spark. This time, he’s more capable than ever. His numbers on the season were excellent before he got hurt as he went 14-3 with a 3.41 ERA in 121.1 innings pitched. He’s still developing as a pitcher, but he has the ability to be plenty effective right now. And for a Rays pitching staff that has crumbled over the last nine games, Moore can provide a huge lift. Once again, the Rays’ postseason hopes are getting slimmer and they need a way to get inspired. Moore can provide that inspiration, and the Rays have to hope that will begin tonight.