Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Matt Moore wanted to smile when he reached the mound in the ninth inning Monday needing only three outs for the first shutout (or complete game of any sort) of his career.
"It was a lot of fun," he said.
But Moore resisted the urge to crack even the shyest of grins, as well as the urge to speed things up and sprint for the finish line.
Instead, he stayed with what had been working all night. He looked for the sign from catcher Jose Lobaton, threw the pitch that was called and put the finishing touches on a 3-0 victory against the first-place Boston Red Sox during the opening round of their four-game series.
With the victory the Rays moved to within a half-game of the division leaders.
"I think that's probably the best game I've ever thrown, taking into consideration the Red Sox are playing pretty well right now and we're on the road," Moore said.
Moore extended his winning streak to six games and improved his record to 14-3. He also kept the Rays rolling.
The Rays have now won 18 of their last 20 games, making them the fourth team in the past 10 years to win at least 18 games in a 20-game stretch. The Twins had a 19-1 run in 2006.
Moore also became the first visiting pitcher since Roy Halladay in 2009 to throw a shutout at Fenway Park. Halladay tossed a three-hitter.
Moore held the Red Sox to a pair of hits, something done only four other times by a visiting pitcher at Fenway in the last 20 years.
And, Moore became the second pitcher in team history to shut out the Red Sox in Boston, joining Steve Trachsel, who did it May 16, 2000.
"You saw (Moore) at his absolute best," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
"It's hard to argue with that," Jeremy Hellickson said. "I think that's as dominant as you can be for nine innings. He had command of all three of his pitches. He was getting ahead, getting early outs. When he's doing that he's pretty much unhittable."
Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said he thought Moore threw only two or three pitches that were not competitive (bounced in the dirt, neck high) and gave up only two or three hard-hit balls.
"That's a really, really good lineup, a good team, and he basically shut them down," Hickey said.
Hickey was also impressed with the way Moore was breathing on the mound, something he rarely notices. But it also caught Hickey's attention how calm Moore was on those rare occasions when he fell behind a Red Sox batter.
"Obviously I was very impressed with the way he pitched, as well," Hickey said.
One month ago today the Rays were in last place in the AL East, percentage points behind the fourth-place Blue Jays and five games behind the first-place Red Sox. They actually dropped two more games behind Boston before making the charge up the standings.
"I really believed we were going to get back into it," Maddon said. "I didn't know how quickly or when."
The "how" was the rotation. Bolstered by the return of David Price from the disabled list and the steady development of Chris Archer and Hellickson, the Rays have won 21 of their last 25 games.
Moore's outing Monday gave the Red Sox a glimpse of how much the Rays have changed since the last time they visited Boston, a three-game mid-June series that saw the Rays get swept in a day/night doubleheader.
"We have been pitching like (Moore's effort Monday)," Maddon said. "That's why we've been playing so well."
Moore was able to command his fastball, which led to an efficient night.
"I think we were very fortunate to get that first (inning) over and after that is was just following whatever (sign) that (Lobaton) put down," Moore said.
He needed only five pitches to retire the Red Sox in order in the sixth inning.
"I really believe that's what he's capable of doing on a consistent basis," Maddon said.
Shortstop Yunel Escobar returned to the lineup after missing the three-game sweep in Toronto because of a strained right hamstring. He reached base three times in four plate appearances, drawing a pair of walks after reaching on a single in his first at-bat.
James Loney drove in the Rays' first two runs, driving home Ben Zobrist in the first inning with a sacrifice fly and singling home Escobar in the fifth.
Desmond Jennings gave Moore an important insurance run when his sacrifice fly with the bases loaded in the ninth scored Matt Joyce.
The rest was up to Moore, who pitched into the ninth inning for only the second time in his professional career. The first was in 2011 when he threw a no-hitter for Double-A Montgomery.
Moore's victories in six straight starts tied the club mark he already shared with Scott Kazmir, who won six straight in 2008. Moore's first six-game winning streak began with his final win in 2012 and continued when he won his first five starts this season en route to an 8-0 start.
"It's hard to believe," Hickey said, "but when he was 8-0 there was still considerable room for improvement. This ballgame is kind of an example of that. He came into this game with 13 wins and he still had a lot of room for improvement.
"If he continues to pitch like this we'll probably stop saying that."