ST. PETERSBURG — For a guy who had been known as a slow starter, Matt Moore is off to quite a start.
In fact, Moore became the best-starting starter in team history in Monday's 5-1 win over the Yankees: the first Rays pitcher to post wins in each of his first four starts.
And he did so quite impressively, allowing only two hits and striking out nine while working a career-high-matching eight innings.
"That's what you envision," manager Joe Maddon. "Stuff-wise, that's what we've been looking for."
Moore had plenty of help as the Rays, 9-10 after winning four straight, grabbed an early lead based on "Tatman-deux" — two home runs by ink-covered Ryan Roberts, plus another by Yunel Escobar, all off CC Sabathia in front of 15,331.
During Moore's rise through the minors and his 2012 rookie season, he was plagued by poor Aprils: a pro career ERA of 4.52, nearly double his work over the ensuing months, and an 0-1, 4.48 mark last April.
As different as the results are — he is 4-0, with a 1.04 ERA that actually went up Monday — he said he didn't change much.
"There's been some adjustments here and there; I wouldn't say it's a philosophy or a routine change," said Moore, 23. "I'm definitely not trying any harder than I have been in the past. So it's something, it may be comfortability, I don't really know what to speak of right now."
Maddon didn't know, either, but he threw this one out: "Probably because we talked about it so much, made such a big issue out of it, he wanted to prove us wrong, which you know most of your children always want to do."
Working with tremendous command of his fastball, Moore got better as he went, taking advantage of the unexpected opportunity Maddon gave him to start the eighth with 105 pitches — and finished with a career-high 117.
"I was surprised, but I was very happy about it," Moore said. "It was nice to get out there and feel that tempo. It was good to be out there."
Moore (4-0 for the first time, he said, at any level) was just part of a landmark night. The Rays allowed three or fewer hits for a team-record-tying third straight game; an AL team hasn't gone four since the 1974 Orioles, and it was the first time in their 2,446-game franchise history their starting shortstop and second baseman homered in the same inning.
Roberts thanked the Lord then Maddon for his playing time, saying "those two things combined are what I give credit to." For Escobar, who muscled the ball to right in homering for a second straight game, it's more tangible, a switch, at Maddon's suggestion, from a 31-ounce, 331/3-inch bat to a 34½-ounce, 35½-inch Shelley Duncan model.
Oh, and after having a magician in the clubhouse before Sunday's game, there was a pretty good trick in the sixth Monday, when Duncan hit a ball that went up over home plate and didn't come down. Well, not for 4-5 seconds, anyway, after it rattled around the catwalk and was correctly ruled a dead ball, to the dismay of the Yankees, who thought when they caught it the inning was over.
Overall, with four straight wins after the rough road trip, Maddon said, "It's been so fun to watch."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]