The Matt Moore who dazzled nearly everyone in baseball last fall with his overpowering fastball and pitching savvy beyond his years showed up Thursday night against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field.
He mixed his pitches well, threw with an easy delivery and retired batter after batter.
Trouble was, that Moore arrived after he already had dug a hole the Tampa Bay Rays could not escape, and the result was a 5-3 loss in front of 19,842 fans.
The rookie fell to 1-4 in eight starts, yet turned in his best start of the season — six innings in which he allowed three runs and struck out a season-high eight. Moore also retired 12 of the final 13 batters he faced, including the last 10.
"From the team's standpoint, this isn't a victory, but for myself and my individual performance, I was somewhat satisfied with the fourth, fifth and sixth inning," Moore said.
The loss snapped the Rays' four-game winning streak and, with Baltimore's victory in Kansas City, dropped them out of the tie for first with the Orioles in the American League East.
The loss also ended a streak of 10 games in which the Rays played all their AL East rivals. They finished 5-5.
Yet out of the loss came an overall good feeling toward Moore.
"I know the numbers haven't shown it yet, but he's been making strides in the right direction," catcher Chris Gimenez said. "It's up to him now to put it together."
Rays manager Joe Maddon called it Moore's best outing of the season.
"That's definitely a game to build on," Maddon said.
Moore started poorly, with a 33-pitch first inning in which he loaded the bases on two singles and a hit batter. He walked Cody Ross with two outs to force in the first run.
Boston then built a 3-0 lead on home runs by Marlon Byrd in the second inning and Ross in the third. Both homers came with two strikes on the batter.
Yet Moore had turned a corner.
"You just had to flush," Moore said. "You can't control what just happened, so there was really no sense of me thinking about it too much, so I just really had to get it out of my mind as fast as possible."
Ross' homer was the last hit Moore would allow.
"That game could have went two different ways," Moore said, "and I really did my best to just keep it within one pitch at a time and staying within my process as far as last pitch doesn't matter, the home run I gave up to Cody Ross doesn't matter, I got to get this guy out right now … because I can't rewind life and take that pitch back, so there's really no sweat in me even thinking about it."
The Rays chipped their way back into game, scoring solo runs in the third and fourth innings.
Jeff Keppinger's RBI single finished the third-inning rally that began when B.J. Upton reached with two outs on catcher's interference after appearing to pop up to first for the final out.
The Rays' second run came courtesy of their latest feel-good story: Rich Thompson, who made his first major-league start and recorded his first major-league hit when he singled through the middle of the infield to score Sean Rodriguez.
Thompson, 33, was acquired Wednesday in a trade with the Phillies and returned to the major leagues for only the second time in his career. He had played 915 minor-league games in between big-league appearances, a streak that ended when he pinch-ran Wednesday.
Thompson, whose speed made him attractive to Rays vice president of baseball Andrew Friedman, stole second and third as the Rays loaded the bases that inning.
The rally ended when Luke Scott lined out to Adrian Gonzalez.
Scott, who leads the Rays with 27 RBIs, left two runners on in each of his final three at-bats despite hitting the ball hard in two of three at-bats.
"Just didn't get the fortuitous breaks for him," Maddon said.
But Moore pitched well, and that was enough of a silver lining to the loss.
"All in all," Gimenez said, "he threw the ball a lot better than he has at any point this year."