The Rays are within half a game of the Boston Red Sox after a dominant performance by a nearly untouchable Matt Moore led them to a 3-0 victory Monday night in Fenway Park.
With Matt Moore on the mound opposite Brandon Workman, this was always going to be Tampa Bay's best pitching matchup of the four-game series. While both Workman and Moore clock in at just 24-years-old, for Workman this was just the second start of a two-week-old major league career while for Moore it represented the 19th start of an already-successful sophomore season.
And at first the matchup looked quite lopsided indeed. Brandon Workman surrendered hits to each of the first three batters he faced, and added a walk in a first inning that was likely saved from disaster only by a pickoff of Desmond Jennings at first. Already trailing 1-0, Workman entered the second inning with over 30 pitches on his arm, looking for all the world like a disaster waiting to happen.
That disaster would never come. While Workman did not shut down the Rays from thereon in, he certainly slowed them. It would not be until the fifth inning that Tampa Bay scored its second run, with Workman even reining in his pitch count well enough to work through the end of the sixth.
With Jose De La Torre working nearly three innings of one-run ball behind him, this should have been one of those pleasant surprises where the Red Sox made something out of a game that seemed unlikely to result in much. But the offense...the offense was anything but willing.
To be fair to the starting nine, Matt Moore was phenomenal. If Boston's lineup was overly aggressive in their approach against a pitcher who's been known to have control issues, Moore can be credited for making the pitches he needed to make regardless of the count. How bad was it for Boston? It wasn't until the seventh inning that someone other than Mike Napoli reached base, and in one of the two instances where Napoli reached first, he was erased by a double play ball from Jonny Gomes.
It was a perfect mixture of a Red Sox lineup that clearly was not feeling it as they had the night before--perhaps even because of the long Sunday night game--and a good pitcher having an even better night than usual. EVen the rare bit of good contact was remarkable, with at bats resulting in offspeed pitches topped off to second or short more often than not.
It's a game you'd like to move on from and forget. But unfortunately it shows up in the standings all the same. That Rays team that hadn't faced a winning team in about a month just dominated a Red Sox lineup that has scored more runs than any other in the game. And now they're just one half game up, relying on Jon Lester of all people to keep them out of second place.
No, a drop to second is not the end of the world, but letting the Rays get that taste of first seems like the last thing this team should want to allow.