James Shields tries to send the Tampa Bay Rays home with a commanding lead in the American League Division Series this evening when they play Game 2 against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
The Rays drew first blood in the best-of-five set on Friday, as rookie left- hander Matt Moore threw seven scoreless innings in his second major league start and Kelly Shoppach hit two home runs, leading Tampa to a 9-0 win.
Moore (1-0) was the first pitcher to start a playoff game with one or fewer previous MLB starts, but the box score betrayed everything about that fact.
The heralded 22-year-old gave up just two hits, two walks and struck out six while becoming the youngest American League pitcher in 40 years to start his team's first game of the postseason.
"You can't be more impressed," said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who deflected credit for starting Moore by saying it was a group decision among himself and the scouts. "What he did tonight was spectacular."
Johnny Damon's solo homer sparked a three-run rally in the second inning and counted as the winning run, while Shoppach belted a three-run homer in the third and a two-run blast in the fifth to put the game out of reach.
Tampa, of course, rallied from nine games back on September 3 to win the AL wild card from the Boston in thrilling fashion on the regular season's final day. It won for the sixth straight time on Friday, while earning the first measure of revenge against a Rangers team, who beat the Rays 3-2 in last year's ALDS in the first postseason series ever in which the road team won every game.
That streak continued, with Moore outdueling Texas ace C.J. Wilson (0-1), who was hit for eight runs (six earned) in just five innings of work.
"We have always bounced back, and we will bounce back," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We have a five-game series here. They got the first one. I don't think it matters if they won, 1-0, or 9-0. We got beat. We can take that. We'll bounce back tomorrow."
It won't be easy against Shields, who was one of the best pitchers in the American League this season, going 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA. His 11 complete games were by far the most in the AL and he has a reputation of coming up big when the Rays need him, but lost his ALDS start to the Rangers last year.
"They have one of the better hitting teams in the big leagues, but you have to be aggressive," Shields told reporters on Friday afternoon. "You have to attack those hitters. You can't make too many mistakes."
The California native, whose 11 complete games were the most since Randy Johnson had 12 in 1999, also became the first pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1992 to toss that many complete games and record four shutouts in the same season.
"Obviously I wanted a complete game. I hadn't had a complete game since 2008 before this season, and surprisingly I got 11 of them. But just staying consistent. I am very proud of what I have done this year as far as staying consistent. I think that's what I am all about and what I am capable of doing."
Shields went 2-0 with a sparking 0.53 ERA in two starts against Texas this season.
The Rangers, meanwhile, will rely on lefty Derek Holland, who tied Shields with four shutouts this season and ended the year 16-5 with a 3.95 ERA. He also won his last three starts and hasn't lost since August 21.
However, he recorded quality starts in just 19 of his 32 starts this season.
"I mean, I've read a lot about [my struggles]," Holland said. "It was definitely a roller coaster. I had my bumps and bruises. The main thing is it's not how you start, it's how you finish, and I feel that I finished pretty well."
Texas won five of its nine regular season meetings with the Rays, taking two of three in Arlington, while splitting six games at Tropicana Field.
Game 3 of this series will shift to Tropicana Field on Monday.