ARLINGTON, Texas - Matt Moore went to the mound as the ultimate wild card.
Seven innings later, he walked off as a postseason ace.
Making only his second major league start, the 22-year-old rookie pitched two-hit ball and left with a huge lead Friday as the improbable Tampa Bay Rays opened the real playoffs with a 9-0 victory over the defending AL champion Texas Rangers.
"You can't be more impressed," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "What he did tonight was spectacular."
A minor leaguer until mid-September, Moore dazzled with his pitching and poise. He took a deep breath before his first delivery, then was in total control for a team that already had played a month's worth of tense games.
"I may have looked a little more calm than I was, especially early. The first inning, I had a little bit of nerves and adrenaline going," Moore said.
"But these guys made it really easy for me, putting up those numbers. Looking up there after the fourth, I think it was 8-0, it was just a matter of throwing strikes and getting out of the innings as fast as possible," he said.
Kelly Shoppach homered twice and drove in five runs, Johnny Damon also homered and Tampa Bay dominated the whole way behind Moore.
Moore began this best-of-five matchup by striking out six and walking two against the AL's top-hitting team.
When Maddon had to pick a rested starter for Game 1 of the AL division series rematch, he had no qualms of going with the lefty who made his first start last week at Yankee Stadium and struck out 11 in five scoreless innings.
No pitcher had ever started a postseason opener with only one previous career start until the seemingly unfazed Moore took the mound at Rangers Ballpark less than 22 hours after being told he was pitching in the playoffs less than three months after pitching in the Futures game during the All-Star break.
Rookie Brandon Gomes and Wade Davis both pitched a hitless inning in relief to complete the first shutout in Rays postseason history.
It was a day of memorable pitching in Texas, where 6-year-old Cooper Stone tossed a ceremonial first pitch to Josh Hamilton and then shared two hugs with his favorite player.
Game 2 is Saturday night. James Shields will start for the Rays against Derek Holland.
Moore, who had thrown only 9 1-3 innings in the majors before this start, was smiling by the late innings. He was greeted by hugs and high-fives in the Rays dugout after he had thrown his last pitch — he threw 98 in all, 62 for strikes.
"I know everybody's name in that lineup. I never faced them before, just kind of one of those things I didn't want to be out of it before I was in it," Moore said. "I tried to be as normal, as normal and as calm as possible. And it was just a matter of getting comfortable, and there on it was throwing strikes."
Having the youngster on the mound led to another important decision for Maddon, who opted to go with the light-hitting Shoppach behind the plate.
The catcher from nearby Fort Worth homered twice off Rangers ace left-hander C.J. Wilson and matched a Rays postseason record with five RBIs.
Texas and Tampa Bay have picked up where they left off last postseason, when the visiting team won every game in their five-game series. That's the only time that has ever happened in the majors.
The Rangers won that series, helped by Cliff Lee, and then went on to beat the Yankees in the AL championship before losing to San Francisco in five games in the World Series. Texas is only 3-9 in postseason games at Rangers Ballpark, where they had never won a playoff game until last year.
After Wilson hit Ben Zobrist with a pitch in the second, Damon followed with a two-run homer to right that put the Rays ahead to stay. What looked like a high popup by Damon just kept carrying and hit the front-row rail just beyond the eight-foot wall.
"Johnny hitting that home run early kind of gave us all a chance to just breathe," Shoppach said.
Shoppach, a .176 hitter in the regular season, followed with a single and later scored on a hit by Matt Joyce for a 3-0 lead. An inning later, Shoppach hit a 410-foot homer to straightaway center.
More than enough for Moore.
"Once he got the lead, the kid took it to the finish line. He is special. You have to give him credit for that," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Early on in the first couple of innings he was just establishing his fastball. Then when he got around the third or fourth inning, he started mixing his breaking ball and his change up. He is a special kid. He really is."
Tampa led 8-0 after Damon reached on a two-out error by third baseman Adrian Beltre in the fifth and Shoppach followed with a 415-foot homer to left.
Damon drove in another run with an infield single in the ninth.
ATLANTA (AP) - Matt Harvey pitched six hitless innings, John Buck homered and the New York Mets held off another Atlanta comeback, beating the Braves 4-3 Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader.
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