It wasn't the best of beginnings to a game for Matt Moore. He hit the first batter of the night. Allowed a tough-luck double to the third batter. Then David Ortiz did what David Ortiz does best, crushed one into the right field seats.
Yet Moore shrugged it off, went on a roll after the home run and left Tropicana Field late Tuesday night as the first seven-game winner in the American League this season.
The offense took advantage of some fortuitous hits and beat the Boston Red Sox 5-3 in front of 15,227.
It was a season-best sixth straight win for the Rays and moved them to a season-high two games above .500. They now trail the third-place Red Sox by 1 ½ games.
Moore, who is off to the best start of any starter in franchise history, tied David Price's record for consecutive wins at eighth when you include Moore's final outing of 2012.
“That sounds good,” Moore said. “By no means did I have as much to do with that as the record might look like. It's absolutely a team thing. The amount of runs they put up for me when I pitch is pretty incredibly.”
Joel Peralta, who retired the heart of the Red Sox order in order in the eighth inning, disagreed.
“He's pitching,” Peralta said. “He's not only throwing, you know. He's pitching.”
Moore's fastball was sporadic at best Tuesday, but he relied on his curveball and changeup to keep the Red Sox lineup off balance.
After the home run by Ortiz, Moore went on a run where he retired 12 straight. He allowed only three hits in his six innings.
“It wasn't as heartbreaking as you might think it would be because of the way we were swinging the bats,” Moore said of the early 3-0 hole.
Maddon agreed, but not because of what he expected from the offense. Maddon liked what he saw from Moore as he pitched to Mike Napoli following Ortiz's three-run blast.
“I saw him as being fine. Didn't hurry up. Didn't give you that bad body language, the bad facial expression. He hung in there.”
With Moore in control, the Rays jumped on Red Sox starter John Lackey in the fourth, scoring all their runs for the night on six hits.
They caught a little bit of luck when Luke Scott doubled home a run with a check swing, and Matt Joyce drove home two more runs with a fly ball that eluded Napoli at first base.
Scott's soft double to left field followed back-to-back singles by Evan Longoria and James Loney that put runners on the corners with one out.
Molina singled to center to score Loney and Scott and tie it at 3.
After Escobar singled to put runners on first and second, Desmond Jennings moved the runners with a fly ball to center, with Molina setting the tone by tagging up and running to third.
“That was a huge part of the game,” Maddon said of Molina's base running. “It was outstanding.”
That set the stage for Joyce, who, batting with two out, lifted a towering fly ball toward the Trop's roof. Napoli came in for the ball then drifted backward. The ball fell between Napoli and second baseman Dustin Pedroia as Molina and Escobar raced home.
Instead of picking up the ball, second baseman Pedroia decided to let it roll since it was rolling toward the foul line. But the ball stopped in fair territory and the Rays led 5-3.
Moore went six innings. The bullpen took it from there. Jake McGee, Josh Lueke, Peralta and Fernando Rodney pitched four hitless innings.
Rodney, who struck out the side in the ninth, earned his sixth save.
The Rays bullpen, torched on nearly a nightly basis during the start of this home stand, extended its streak to 16 2/3 innings without allowing an unearned run.
And Moore is 7-0.
Given how he pitched in the spring, would anyone have picked him as the Rays pitcher who would make it mid-May undefeated?
“Coming out of camp you wouldn't expect this guy to be 7-0, but he is, because he's good,” Maddon said. “Even with the sometimes sporadic command of the fastball nobody squares him up on a consistent basis, and that's the trade off. It's hard to bludgeon him. You're going to get the home run once in a while, but up and down the lineup it's hard to go boom, boom, boom, several hits in a row against this guy. His ball is that much alive.”
Molina, citing Moore's age – 23 – said the young lefty has a lot of room for improvement.
“He's just learning right now how to pitch, how to get these guys out, how to get other guys out, how to battle in the good, how to battle in the bad, how to battle in the regular,” Molina said. “He's got a lot of improvement to go – a lot, a lot. I'm saying a lot. Right now, we can say he's 7-0, but the maturity that he has on the mound and to keep battling, another guy could've quit in the fifth inning, third inning, fourth inning or given up six or eight runs. He just stayed there and gives you six innings. That's a pretty good line for anybody.”