Matt Moore gave the Rays the kind of start in Wednesday's 4-0 win over the Red Sox that they have been so desperately seeking.
He pitched well enough, most vital of all, to win the game, just their second in the past 14 tries. A no-hitter through five, a jam created by his only three hits allowed then dismissed in the sixth, a solid seven on the day, zeroes across.
He pitched well enough to further put the Tommy John elbow surgery, the long rehab and the disappointing and doubt-raising 2015 return further in the past, if not, finally, out of view.
He pitched well enough to once again ignite the hope that that vaunted and touted Rays rotation might yet show up this season, if only Jake Odorizzi can come up with a similar outing tonight, then Drew Smyly, Blake Snell and Chris Archer can get in line at least for a couple of weeks.
And he pitched well enough to ignite a trade market that the Rays would benefit from warming as a third choice to a $7.5 million option and a $2.5 million buyout for next season, with the Rangers already hot on Moore's trail and three-four others expected to join the pursuit.
"He's a top-of-the-rotation guy," said good buddy Alex Cobb, who is nearing the end of his own TJ rehab. "He showed that before he got hurt, and it took him a little while to get back. But it seems like he's back to being the All-Star Matt Moore."
Moore, who three years ago was a 17-game winner and an All-Star, is a little more cautious in his self-assessment, but the trending has been in a positive direction.
After a 1-2, 7.71 seven-start mess, he said this was the best stretch he has had "for a long period of time," the sixth inning that cost him Friday's game in Baltimore excluded. That includes five straight starts of six or more innings and three of his past four with two or fewer runs.
"After a tough May, to be able to kind of roll out a few after that is something that we're going to try and build on from here," Moore said.
Friday, he was given an early lead and retired the first 13 but showed a crack in the fifth then caved in the sixth, allowing four runs that led to the 6-3 loss.
Wednesday, he was given an early lead and retired 13 of the first 14 (a Logan Forsythe error in the first), showed a crack in the fifth with two walks but in the sixth didn't cave at all.
Instead, Moore responded with his most impressive work of the afternoon. After allowing singles to three of the first four Sox, and not fussing over losing the no-no, he had the bases loaded with the dangerous duo of David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez looming.
Anticipating Big Papi was taking, Moore snuck in a first pitch strike and took command of the at-bat from there, getting to 0-and-2 with a foul then a weak popup. He came back with strike one to Ramirez, then at 2-and-1 got him to fly out to end the threat.
Knowing the game was in the balance, well aware he had been doomed by the one big inning several times this season, Moore said the key was trying easier.
"Just to slow it down," he said. "Not feel like I'm rushing, that I've got to do something special."
The fastball has shown more life, evident by the increased swing-and-miss rate. Wednesday, the changeup was a potent weapon, the benefit of extended work on it in Sunday's bullpen session. The curve can still be nasty.
The missed time from the April 2014 surgery and inconsistent initial return clearly knocked him out of the conversation of elite starters.
"Mike Moore was very good," Sox manager John Farrell said, not realizing his innocent mistake. "He had power to his fastball, probably the best breaking ball we've seen from him."
Rays manager Kevin Cash said they are seeing increasing signs of the "lights-out, wipeout-type stuff" Moore, 27, had when he first came up in 2011.
"We've seen that over several innings this year, and today was a good example of it," Cash said. "Anytime a guy has surgery in fairness to the player, you always have to wait a little longer. They can kind of trick you into thinking, 'All right, he's back.' But the more comfort, the more build(up), the more curveballs he gets a feel for, we're going to start seeing that pitcher more and more."
And the question may then be where you see Moore pitching more …
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.