(Reuters) - The Tampa Bay Rays, riding high on confidence and form, extended their incredible late season surge to six consecutive wins when they thumped the Texas Rangers 9-0 in the first of their best-of-five division series playoffs on Friday.
Rookie pitcher Matt Moore and catcher Kelly Shoppach both produced outstanding performances as the Rays, who staged an amazing comeback against the New York Yankees on Wednesday just to sneak into the Major League Baseball playoffs, romped to a surprisingly lopsided victory.
Rays manager Joe Maddon gambled and won big when he picked Moore as his starting pitcher. The 22-year-old lefthander had only started in the Major League once before but belied his inexperience with a composed display.
In seven innings, he allowed just two hits, both to slugger Josh Hamilton, while striking out six batters, to show why he is regarded as one of the most promising young pitchers in the game.
"What he did tonight was spectacular," Maddon said. "Seven innings, 97, 98 pitches, two hits? Great night.
"We needed that kind of pitching performance to do what we did do today," Maddon said. "And tomorrow we have (number one starter James) Shields coming back."
Shoppach was just as imposing, belting two home runs and driving in five runs.
He struck a 410-feet three-run blast over the center-field wall in the third inning then a two-run shot in the fifth to put the result beyond doubt.
"How about it. Two homers," Maddon said. "He just looks a lot more comfortable at the plate, and historically he's done well against left-handed pitchers.
"And furthermore, he caught a really good game with a rookie pitcher."
The visiting Rays pounced on Rangers starter C.J. Wilson in the second inning with a two-run home run by Johnny Damon, and Shoppach singled and later scored to build an early 3-0 lead.
Shoppach's two homer runs also came off Wilson, who allowed eight runs and seven hits in five innings.
"They swung the bat," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "It was just one of those days. (We) just didn't get it done."
The teams meet again in Arlington on Saturday before heading to Florida for game three on Monday.
(Writing by Mike Mouat in Windsor, Ontario; Editing by Julian Linden)