Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Former Rays lefty Matt Moore proves his value to Giants in near no-hitter

LOS ANGELES — The San Francisco Giants did not pay a small fortune for Matt Moore solely so he could beat the Los Angeles Dodgers. They saw a left-handed pitcher with the kind of emerging stuff that wouldn't be available on the free-agent market, no matter the cost. A club-friendly contract through 2019 only added to his allure.

But the Giants knew there would be an immediate fringe benefit: The Dodgers do not hit well against left-handed pitching.

On a cool Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, until the former Tampa Bay Rays pitcher stood one out away from history, they did not hit him at all.

Dodgers rookie shortstop Corey Seager gulped air at first base after his line drive found grass in right field with two outs in the ninth inning. It came on Moore's 133rd and final pitch of the night — 13 more than he and his once-repaired elbow had ever thrown in a big league game.

Santiago Casilla replaced him and put the finishing touch on a 4-0 victory that clipped the Giants' deficit to two games in the N.L. West.

Moore came up just short of throwing the 18th no-hitter in Giants franchise history, and the first by a Giant against the Dodgers since Rube Marquard in 1915. His accomplishments were not historic, but they were darn significant as the Giants avoided being swept in the three-game series.

Joe Panik hit a two-run home run and center fielder Denard Span kept the no-hitter going with a pair of sparkling catches - including a sliding grab on Kike Hernandez for the first out in the ninth.

But Seager prevented the Giants from throwing a no-hitter for the fifth consecutive year - something no major league franchise has done.

The Dodgers already were weeping into their blue-bordered handkerchiefs prior to the game. They learned that the club's top brass had traded A.J. Ellis, their popular yet offensively challenged backup catcher, and also Clayton Kershaw's best pal.

It takes brass, all right, to mess with the chemistry of a first-place team. The Giants know a little something about this. On Aug. 1, they traded their beloved third baseman, Matt Duffy, to get Moore from Tampa Bay.

In his fifth start as a Giant, Moore showed his value.

With new life breathed into this division race, the Giants go home for six games with the Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks, two losing clubs, while the Dodgers play host to the redoubtable Chicago Cubs.

Moore was winless in his first four outings as a Giant, although two met the minimum standards for a quality start (six innings, three earned runs) and he left another trailing 3-2 after five.

The number that leapt off the sheet, though, was Moore's 17 walks in 23 innings - and the left-hander wore a glum expression whenever someone asked about it. He said he was over-rotating, which caused his arm to drag behind his body and made it difficult to maintain a direct line to the plate.

The Dodgers' hitters showed the most consistent direction Thursday night. They kept turning around and jogging back to the dugout.

Moore showed much better command from the outset, and he needed it in a second-inning confrontation with Justin Turner that lasted 11 pitches. Moore shook to his preferred pitch on a couple of occasions, throwing fastball, cutter, curve and changeup all in the same at-bat, and kept locating each time. Eventually, he got Turner to roll over a cutter to third base, where Eduardo Nunez gathered it for an out.

As a result, Moore was behind on the pitch count. But Span made a running, shoestring catch of Adrian Gonzalez's deep drive, and after a full-count walk to Yasmani Grandal on a ball in the dirt, Moore escaped the inning.

The Dodgers didn't get another baserunner until Seager drew a one-out walk in the seventh. Moore got right with the pitch count, retiring the side on seven pitches in the fifth and seven more in the sixth.

The no-hitter survived thanks to a couple of defensive plays. In the fifth, Rob Segedin threaded a grounder to the left side that eluded Nunez, but Crawford made a backhand play deep in the hole and followed with a strong throw to first base. In the sixth, Gorky Hernandez, who had just replaced Hunter Pence in right field, narrowly avoided a collision with Span while making a running catch.

Seager's walk in the seventh put Moore into the stretch for another confrontation with Turner, and while this one wasn't nearly as protracted, it featured three consecutive fouls before Moore nicked the outer edge of the plate with a changeup. Turner took the pitch, then turned with his shoulders square to plate umpire Sam Holbrook while arguing the call.

Moore followed by retiring Gonzalez on a ground out. He had thrown 95 pitches and was six outs removed from his first no-hitter since he twirled one for Double-A Montgomery in 2011.

The eighth inning wasn't as smooth. It included a four-pitch leadoff walk to Grandal, followed by a 10-pitch strikeout of pinch hitter Chase Utley. Manager Bruce Bochy did not try to warm up a reliever in secret, as he did with Shane Loux in the end stages of Matt Cain's perfect game in 2012. Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez were getting warm in the Dodger Stadium visiting bullpen for all to see.

But as Bochy paced a trench in the dugout, Moore speared a comebacker from Charlie Culberson and then retired Joc Pederson on a well struck drive at Span.

Moore had thrown 119 pitches — one away from the most he'd ever thrown in a major league game. That came in 2013, one year before he underwent Tommy John surgery to reconstruct a torn elbow ligament.

After the eighth, Bochy needed his consultation with Moore to be brief because the pitcher was due to lead off the ninth. Sure enough, Moore put on a helmet and struck out.

The Giants acquired Moore because he was the kind of pitcher they couldn't dream to find, let alone afford, on the free-agent market: a left-hander with a plus curveball, a mid-90s fastball and an affordable contract with club options through 2019.

It also helped that the Dodgers were hitting .227 against left-handers, the lowest average in the major leagues - not that it helped Madison Bumgarner in Tuesday's series opener.

Moore actually had faced the Dodgers twice already this season in interleague games with the Tampa Bay Rays, and held them to an unearned run on 6 1/3 innings at Dodger Stadium in July.

©2016 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

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