September 3, 2013; Anaheim, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar (11) is congratulated after hitting a solo home run in the fifth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Game 137: Moore Solid in Return, Clutch Hits Finally Come

Joe Maddon hoped Matt Moore could give him 5 innings and the lead. With help from his offense, Moore gave Maddon exactly what he wanted. It wasn’t the prettiest win, with Moore battling control issues and the Rays offense still stranding quite a few runners on base. However, no one was asking for perfection–it’s nice, but unattainable 99% of the time–and it’s simply execution in a few choice spots that makes all the difference. Moore escaped jams while Ben Zobrist and the Rays offense got just enough when it mattered most as they finally got back in the win column with a 7-1 victory and just maybe nailed down that breakout game that has eluded them for far too long.

Making his first start since July 28th, Moore was going to be held to around 90 pitches. But even with the reduced pitch count, the expectations for Moore were high. The Rays desperately needed a lift, and he was the pitcher who was going to have to give it to them. While the Rays’ struggles in their last nine games were primarily due to a sputtering offense, their starting pitchers had managed just 5.1 innings combined the previous 2 games allowing 6 runs. Moore managed to match those 5.1 innings, and he worked his way around at least one baserunner in each inning to allow just an unearned run. Overall, Moore allowed 1 run on 4 hits, striking out 6 while walking 4.

Moore’s control came and went, but his fastball touched 95 MPH, his curveball forced several ugly swings, and he came through with several good changeups as Angels hitters had a trouble hitting the ball with authority against him all night, especially with runners on base as he held them to just 1 for 10 in those situations. Moore found a way to come through when the Rays needed him most–both in the game in general and with runners on base–and it could be something for him to build on in the final month. Having Moore going every five days once again could make all the difference for this Rays team as they try to get back on track.

The Rays offense made sure that Moore stayed comfortable in his first game back with an offensive effort that was finally offensive in the right sense. Kelly Johnson drove in the Rays’ first run in the second inning, but the Rays pushed just one run across from a second and third, no out situation and you had to wonder where they would go from there. Desmond Jennings drilled a solo homer in the 3rd inning, but the Rays had played that game as well, getting a home run but little else several times in recent memory. In the 4th inning, though, Ben Zobrist came through with the type of hit that the Rays have seemingly failed to get for ages, drilling a 2-out, 2-run double to give the Rays a 4-1 lead. From there, the Rays offense finally hit its stride, scoring a run each in the next 3 innings including a no-doubt, opposite field home run by Yunel Escobar. The Rays offense actually went just 3 for 20 with runners in scoring position, leaving 11 runners on base, but it was a first step towards normalcy in such situations, and you have to hope it can get the Rays going.

Aside from Moore and Zobrist, other key contributors for the Rays were the players in the 3rd through 6th spots in their order. Evan Longoria, Delmon Young, James Loney, and Wil Myers all delivered 2 hits in the game, with Myers drilling 2 doubles and Loney scoring a pair of runs. It was great to see so many players get involved, especially Longoria, whose recent struggles have been a major reason why the Rays fell apart. And then there was the matter of Roberto Hernandez. With the Rays electing to use Jeremy Hellickson as their starting pitcher in his first game back tomorrow, Hernandez was available out of the bullpen, and he has never looked better than he did in this game. Hernandez finished the game with 3.2 perfect innings, striking out 7 of the 11 batters he faced. He struck out the first five against him, all on nasty changeups, as he gave the Rays yet another reason to leave this game exhilarated. With Moore back and the Rays’ rotation full, it’s unclear where Hernandez goes from here. If Tuesday’s game is any indication, though, he could emerge as a bullpen weapon in the season’s final month.

On Wednesday, the Rays will hope to turn their great Tuesday night into the start of a trend as they take on the Angels once again in the third game of the four-game set between the two teams. The aforementioned Hellickson will take the ball against Angels ace Jered Weaver. Can the Rays build on this game and finally get themselves back to begin one of the best teams in baseball?

Tags: Ben Zobrist Evan Longoria Matt Moore Roberto Hernandez Tampa Bay Rays

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