ST. PETERSBURG (AP) — As good as Matt Moore has been, the Tampa Bay Rays believe he can be even better.
The 23-year-old lefty pitched six strong innings and beat the Boston Red Sox 5-3 Tuesday night to remain undefeated and claim a share of the major league lead in victories.
“It’s pretty incredible,” manager Joe Maddon said after Moore (7-0) yielded a double to Dustin Pedroia and a three-run homer to David Ortiz in the first, then limited the struggling Red Sox to one hit over the next five innings.
Moore, who’s in his second full season in the majors, walked two and struck out eight. He also tied Washington’s Jordan Zimmerman for the major league lead in victories, became the first Tampa Bay starter to begin a season 7-0 and tied a club record by winning his eighth straight decision dating to September.
“The first inning wasn’t as heartbreaking as you would think it would be just because of the way we’ve been swinging the bats,” Moore said.
“It’s one of those things where you have faith in our team and what our offense is going to do,” he added, “and as long as I put up zeroes and leave their lead at three, we’re going to make it interesting down the road.”
The Rays overcame the early deficit with a five-run fourth off John Lackey (1-4). Jose Molina and Matt Joyce each drove in two runs in the inning, helping Tampa Bay extend its winning streak to a season-high six games.
Boston has lost six of seven, including three straight. The Red Sox dropped to 4-9 in May after going a major league-best 18-8 in April.
“We’ve seen the past couple years when we was in a funk, it’s pretty much everybody,” Ortiz said. “It’s like when we’re playing well, everybody is performing well at the same time. Kind of strange. If you look right now, it’s pretty much everybody struggling. Hopefully we bounce back and good things happen.”
Relievers Jake McGee, Josh Lueke and Joel Peralta got the Rays to the ninth, and closer Fernando Rodney struck out the side to finish the combined three-hitter and earn his seventh save.
Ortiz’s homer was his fifth this season and 27th of his career at Tropicana Field, the most by any opposing player. The designated hitter’s 67 RBIs at the Trop are second to Manny Ramirez’s 72.
Moore settled after the home run to retire 12 in a row until Stephen Drew doubled off the right field wall with one out in the fifth for Boston’s third hit.
“Matt’s been wonderful, and again he’s going to keep getting better. There’s more within Moore,” Maddon said. “We’ve talked a little bit about the command issue, but he doesn’t give up a lot of hits. He might walk a couple of guys, but they’re not beating him up with hits. So there’s kind of a balance there.”
Lackey breezed through the first two innings before working through a tight spot in third, when Tampa Bay loaded the bases with two outs but did not score. The Red Sox weren’t as fortunate during a fourth inning in which the Rays turned five singles and Luke Scott’s RBI double into five runs.
Molina’s two-run single made it 3-3, and Boston first baseman Mike Napoli misjudged a Joyce’s infield pop fly that dropped for a two-run single and gave Moore a 5-3 lead.
“That was an odd inning to say the least,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “Check-swing double by Scott the other way and with two outs and the tie score, a pop up that looks at the time seemingly harmless, looked like Mike just over ran it a little bit, didn’t get good read on it and the ball ends up staying fair for two runs and the difference in the game.”
Lackey, making his 299th career start and 300th major league appearance overall, allowed five runs and nine hits in 4 1-3 innings. He walked one and struck out three in losing his third straight decision.
Despite not having a hit after the fifth inning, the Red Sox managed to put the potential tying runs on base in the seventh when Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury before Shane Victorino lined out to end the threat.
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