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Tampa Bay Rays defeat Texas Rangers 9-0 in Game 1 of ALDS


They take chances, these Rays.

That's how they can send 22-year-old Matt Moore in his fourth big-league game out to start the AL Division Series opener. How they can move Kelly Shoppach, and his .176 average, up to sixth in the batting order. How they can keep lefty-swinging Matt Joyce and DH Johnny Damon in the lineup against C.J. Wilson, the Texas left-hander who has tormented them for years.

And how, with a 9-0 Friday win behind them and ace James Shields going to the mound tonight, they can feel so confident about their, well, chances in the best-of-five series.

"Love 'em," centerfielder B.J. Upton said. "A guy we haven't beat all year, we come in and beat him at their place, and we've got Shields going (tonight). Throw in the way we're swinging the bats, and I like it. Who wouldn't like to have their horse on the mound on the road, up one already, especially best-of-five."

Moore had the biggest hand in it, ignoring any pressure and throwing seven spectacular shutout innings while allowing only two hits. Shoppach was the unlikely offensive star, swatting not one but two home runs. Joyce and Damon, despite the inherent disadvantages of facing Wilson, contributed key hits.

The victory was official at 8:09 p.m. Friday, but the primary plans were in place well before that.

Certainly back to Thursday night, when front office officials, manager Joe Maddon and the coaches emerged from a meeting and decided to start Moore and bypass Wade Davis.

Moore — the first in history to start a postseason game with no more than one previous regular-season start — responded impressively, and that was before he even took the mound. "He was kind of making me nervous just because of how calm he was," Shields said.

Once Moore got out there, he showed there was nothing to worry about, alleviating the one concern that he wouldn't throw strikes and fall behind the dangerous power Rangers.

Instead, Moore took advantage of the creeping shadows, the Rangers' unfamiliarity with him and his blazing fastball to dominate, allowing only a two-out single in the first and a leadoff double in the fourth. Of his 98 pitches, 70 were fastballs and 52 were clocked at 95 mph or higher.

"You can't be more impressed," Maddon said. "What he did was spectacular."

"He's a special kid," Texas manager Ron Washington said.

Moore said the key was treating the game no differently than if he were still pitching for Triple-A Durham or Double-A Montgomery, as he was this season, or Class A Charlotte, as he was last year.

"I tried to be as normal and as calm as possible," he said. "It was just a matter of getting comfortable and from there on it was throwing strikes."

Or to Friday afternoon, when Maddon showed the confidence to keep Damon, who was 2-for-11 against Wilson, and Joyce, who had only two at-bats (though a homer) against him, in the lineup, along with Casey Kotchman, making for three left-handed hitters.

Damon got the Rays started with a two-run homer in the second, then hustled with two outs in the fifth to force a throwing error and extend the inning ahead of Shoppach's second homer. Joyce had a big hit in the second, singling in Shoppach to expand the lead to 3-0.

"That's just the Rays for you," Joyce said.

Or back a couple of weeks ago, when Maddon reversed the decision to bench Shoppach so they could look more at Jose Lobaton and John Jaso as potential 2012 starters.

Shoppach, a Fort Worth native playing less than a half-hour from home, turned out to be an unlikely offensive star with three hits, including a three-run homer in the third that extended the Rays lead to 6-0 and the two-run shot in the fifth. In his last 16 regular-season games, Shoppach had six hits.

"Crazy," even he said.

"If you look at his body of work,'' Wilson said, "that was a great day for him.''

Beating Wilson made it all better, because the Rays had never done so. He was 2-0 and held them to a .147 average in three starts this season and, including last year's division series, 5-0, 1.92 for his career.

"He's really dominated us," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "To be able to throw the first blow in a short series, a five-game series, that was a big one for us mentally, and it puts us up 1-0 in a series where we now have Shields going."

Tampa Bay Rays defeat Texas Rangers 9-0 in Game 1 of ALDS 09/30/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 1, 2011 12:13am]
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