There is no such thing as momentum in baseball, right?
This isn’t a sport in which the players feed off the exhilaration of a big win, or the energy of a crowd after a big 3-pointer or touchdown catch. Baseball players don’t thrive on intensity and adrenaline like hockey players. Baseball is a sport of controlled emotions, of focus and concentration, of one game at a time.
But it’s not fun to actually believe that, is it? It’s more fun to think the Rays are on a roll after their stunning, once-in-many-lifetimes victory Wednesday that sent them to the playoffs. It’s more fun to think they just bottled up the electricity from Tropicana Field and took it with them to Texas.
So, no, momentum wouldn’t pass any scientific test. It does exist, however, as Earl Weaver once famously said, in the form of the next day’s starting pitcher.
And in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, the Tampa Bay Rays had all the momentum they needed in the gifted left arm of 22-year-old rookie Matt Moore, a kid with one career major league start and less than 10 innings of big league experience.
The Rays also had momentum in the form of 37-year-old designated hitter Johnny Damon, a guy who knows a little something about the postseason and a little something about the precarious nature of momentum. He smacked a two-run homer off Rangers ace C.J. Wilson in the second inning to give the Rays a 2-0 lead in a game they won 9-0. Understand: Wilson murders lefties; they had hit only two home runs off him over the past two seasons. Damon took a swig from the bottle of Mo and yanked a pitch over the fence in right.
Momentum existed in the form of doughy, 31-year-old catcher Kelly Shoppach, who hit .176 in the regular season. Shoppach, a guy with just 11 career three-hit games, of course delivered three hits, two home runs and five RBIs. He became just the seventh catcher to hit two home runs in a postseason game. Momentum tasted good on this day.
But the story on this day was Moore, the top pitching prospect in the minors, who wasn’t called up until Sept. 13 and found his way on the postseason roster only by replacing the injured Alex Cobb (only players on the Aug. 31 roster are playoff-eligible, but injured players can be replaced).
Joe Maddon wasn’t taking a flier, however, on just any rookie pitcher. The postseason is about power pitching, and Moore has a power arm, throwing the smoothest-looking 95 mph fastball you’ll ever see. He pitched seven innings, allowed two hits and two walks, and struck out six. And while he’s had little time in the big leagues, he’s not a raw kid off the farm. He’s older than Madison Bumgarner was last year for the Giants, older than CC Sabathia was in his postseason debut and Jaret Wright when he started Game 7 of the 1997 World Series for Cleveland.
So, no, the Rays aren’t on a roll. Wednesday and Friday won’t mean a thing when the teams step on the field Saturday. The Rangers will shake off this defeat; after all, that’s what baseball players do. Focus and concentrate on each game. What happened yesterday doesn’t matter.
Of course, the Rays will send James Shields to the mound. All he did this season was lead the AL in complete games and shutouts while finishing third in ERA and strikeouts. And he allowed only one run in two starts against the Rangers.
So, no, momentum doesn’t really exist.
But do you want to bet against the Rays right now?