When they arrived at Rangers Ballpark on Thursday afternoon, the Rays were still some combination of buoyant and numb 16 hours after they beat the Yankees, 8-7, in 12 innings to find a way into the playoffs. They really didn't know who would start against the Rangers on Friday in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
"It has been very difficult to bring this all together from the conclusion of last night until this moment," manager Joe Maddon said. "We celebrated last night, as we should have. Everybody should have celebrated. I hate to disappoint, but that was what it was all about last night."
By all outward signs, this wasn't a case of a manager trying to keep his cards close to his vest.
Catcher Kelly Shoppach said he saw on television that Friday's starter would be Jeff Niemann. Niemann himself was poking around trying to figure out what was up, and he hadn't heard anything. James Shields didn't realize that 22-year-old Matt Moore was in consideration to make the start.
"Is he in that group?" Shields said.
Shields, it turns out, is the Game 2 pitcher. He'll be on regular rest.
As for Shields' question: Moore, the fire-balling lefty who struck out 11 Yankees in his lone Major League start, is more than in the group. His fourth Major League appearance is set to come as Tampa Bay's starter in Game 1 of the ALDS.
"Having my name thrown in there means a lot," said Moore before the official announcement. "Means the manager has some confidence in me, believes in my ability. If that opportunity arises, we'll take it from there."
Moore will be opposite Texas ace C.J. Wilson in Game 1, while Shields is pitted against Derek Holland in Game 2.
Moore burst onto the scene in the mold of the classic secret-weapon rookie. In his 9 1/3 innings of Major League experience, he's allowed three runs on nine hits and three walks, while striking out a head-turning 15.
"I don't think we have qualms about doing anything," Maddon said when asked if Moore was a candidate to start. "I think that is one thing that people have learned about us. You look at how we have gotten to this point. ... If we don't utilize everybody within our rosters here, or within the organization, we're missing out, because that's who we are."
In that Sept. 22 start against New York, Moore's 11 whiffs came in five shutout innings, and he held the AL East champs to four hits and one walk. That was at Yankee Stadium, no less, and all three of his appearances have been on the road.
Still, taking the ball in the first game of the playoffs would have to be nerve-wracking, right?
"I think as long as I can keep those nerves in check, it's just a matter of playing baseball," Moore said. "The stage is obviously a little different, but the game would still be the same. Nobody's asking anybody down here to do more than they're capable of. From that standpoint, it's, 'Just do what you can,' and nothing more. That's what got us here."
Moore, like the Rays, never expected to be in this position. But down to a man, Moore's rotation-mates -- Shields, Niemann (who said he's healthy), Wade Davis and David Price -- believe in what he can do. The ride he's on has just become wilder, but so has his entire team's season.
"In a perfect world, I guess this is the way it's supposed to be," Moore said. "On July 1, I was in Double-A. I was pretty far off from where I am right now, and two weeks ago I was on my way home. What [the team] did in September, getting some help in other places, this isn't supposed to be happening right now." Dodgers right-hander Joe Black had made only two Major League starts when he pitched Game 1 of the 1952 World Series, although he pitched regularly out of the bullpen and totaled 142 1/3 innings. The most recent comparable situation is when Bob Wolcott pitched Game 1 of the 1995 ALCS for the Mariners after making only six big league starts in his rookie campaign.