The Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Texas Rangers in the first game of the American League Division Series, 9-0, and here's how things are going for the Rays. In their franchise history, they've had exactly two players with more than 250 plate appearances and a batting average under .200 in their Rays career. The first is Dan Johnson, who hit the two-out, two-strike home run to keep the Rays alive in their 162nd game of 2011. The second is Kelly Shoppach, who hit two home runs and drove in five runs against starter C.J. Wilson on Friday night.
Things are going well for Tampa Bay.
They're going so well that a rookie with nine innings under his belt as a major leaguer absolutely dominated a powerful Rangers lineup. Matt Moore might have the most electric left-handed arm of any rookie since, oh, David Price.
Things are going freaky well for Tampa Bay.
Two games do not a championship make. In about 27 hours, this series could be tied up. But it's hard not to be impressed with the button-pushing and lever-pulling from the Rays' manager. Just like David Price went from top prospect to postseason talking point, so did Matt Moore. And the goofy-like-a-fox guy that handled them so deftly is Joe Maddon. And his players are doing pretty well in their own right.
The Rays scored first in the second inning, when Ben Zobrist was hit by a pitch, and Johnny Damon hit a two-run home run. A Kelly Shoppach single and a couple of productive outs set up a two-out RBI single from Matt Joyce, which is all Tampa would need, but still they got all greedy-like. In the third inning, Shoppach hit a three-run home run to dead-center to give the Rays a 6-0 lead. In the fifth inning, he took one over the high wall in left-center field to put the Rays up 8-0. You can't spell Kelly Shoppach without "hack," the beautiful son of a gun.
Shoppach's career line with the Rays: .185/.285/.340 with 16 home runs in 379 regular-season at-bats. Before Friday, his postseason line with the Rays was .000/.100/.000. But it was Shoppach who made Nolan Ryan make that disgruntled frowny face that he's so good at.
But was Shoppach the star of the game? Probably, though it's tough to say, if you have to pick just one. Damon's home run gave the Rays their early lead, and Matt Moore was untouchable. He finished with seven innings pitched, two hits allowed, two walks, and six strikeouts. He never threw more than 20 pitches in an inning. He was so untouchable that in the sixth inning, down by eight runs, Josh Hamilton tried to bunt his way on. Moore was throwing 95-mph fastballs that looked like they were traveling through wormholes, and the reigning MVP basically said, "Screw this, I'm Tony Womack now."
On September 1st, the Rays were nine games behind the Boston Red Sox, Matt Moore was in the minors, and Kelly Shoppach was a forgettable backup catcher. One month later, things are just a little goofier.