You can only be so good for so long, and Matt Moore found that out first-hand when his legend took a massive hit in the opening game of the 2013 ALDS.
No longer was he the young phenom who was so good that the Tampa Bay Rays decided to give him Game 1 of the 2011 ALDS against the Texas Rangers, and gone was the guy who posted a brilliant complete game shutout the last time he saw the Boston Red Sox in Fenway; instead, he was just another pitcher who got hammered by the AL’s best in 2013 and couldn’t last through five complete innings.
It was both surprising and perhaps humbling for the team in the sense that in many ways, it wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.
After all, despite not having their top two pitchers available thanks to a pair or do-or-die game to get to this point, the Rays had everything going for them as far as the pitching matchups went in this series. Their two best at Fenway could get to pitch there, and the stage was set for Moore to deliver the key blow so that David Price can drive the nail further in.
Instead, it wasn’t even close; and given that the team is in a short series here, it’s very possible that the Moore could have pitched his one and only game in the playoffs.
The thing is, that might be the case even if the Rays do end up riding the performances of Price and Alex Cobb into the seven-game ALCS. Now, I know that’s going to sound like the knee-jerk reaction, and it’s not as though Tampa Bay did much to help Moore thanks to their suspect fielding in Game 1; but if there’s anything about the 12-2 disaster they could have learned from, it’s that they’ve got a pretty good option in Chris Archer.
Yes, that’s the same Archer who was curiously used for four outs with the game out of hand, and who allowed just one hit and no runs through his relief outing.
It’s a bit of a head-scratcher not only because he simply wasn’t needed out of the pen for the game, but because he remained an unlikely option for Game 4 in the case that Joe Maddon decided last-minute that Jeremy Hellickson wasn’t the right man to go to, or if the righty needed early long relief in his start with the game still on the line.
That, however, doesn’t mean that Archer couldn’t get a start should the team make it into the ALCS — but should he get it in place of Moore?
The performances of Hellickson will have a lot to say about that, I’d imagine. Unlike the regular season, there are too few games for sample sizes to legitimately matter, and teams simply have to go with the hottest hand at the moment. While Moore is undoubtedly capable of bouncing back given his stuff and past experience on the big stage, that he flunked so spectacularly once is enough to plant a seed of doubt about his abilities.
And really, a little bit of doubt can go a long way to winning and losing a series. If Archer comes up with a couple more dominant relief outings, the Rays will have a lot to think about the next time they set their pitching rotation ahead of a series.
Well, if they make it that far, anyway.