video thumbnail

Must C Clutch: Shoppach goes deep twice in Game 1

ARLINGTON -- If the Rays had not made the playoffs with their dramatic come-from-behind win against the Yankees on Wednesday, Kelly Shoppach would have hit the road Friday night, making the 1 1/2-hour drive from Fort Worth to Waco, Texas, to watch the McGregor Bulldogs play Florence High.

Instead, the Rays reached the postseason and Shoppach spent Friday night dismantling the team he adored as a youngster growing up in the Fort Worth area.

Shoppach homered twice and Matt Moore continued to live up to all the hype as the Rays posted a 9-0 win in the first game of their best-of-five American League Division Series with the Rangers.

Shoppach had five RBIs and three hits off Rangers starter C.J. Wilson that put the game on ice early. In doing so, Shoppach joined Johnny Bench as the second catcher to have two home runs and five RBIs in a postseason game.

Shoppach is passionate about football, particularly McGregor's games, where his older brother, Kyle, works as the offensive coordinator. A normal Friday night in the fall sees Shoppach load up the family and travel south on Interstate 35 toward the Friday Night Lights.

The veteran catcher has had an interesting September, which began with manager Joe Maddon telling him that John Jaso and Jose Lobaton would be getting most of the starts at catcher. Shoppach took the news with class and waited his turn. Eventually, that turn came largely due to the Rays' desire to improve their defense behind the plate.

Shoppach's work behind the plate paid dividends -- as did his bat. In 29 September at-bats, Shoppach managed to hit four home runs. That power carried over nicely into the Rays' first game of the postseason.

"I've gotten to play a lot here recently," said Shoppach. "That helps. That helps a lot. You see pitches. And you don't know if you're going to play the next day, so it helps to get out there and see a few and you feel more relaxed at the plate."

Shoppach's first home run came in the third with two aboard when he swung at Wilson's first-pitch fastball and hit it 410 feet over the center-field wall -- where a fan caught the ball and quickly relayed his spoils back toward the infield. Unfortunately for the Rangers, that did not negate the blast, which staked the Rays to a 6-0 lead.

In Shoppach's third at-bat, the count went to 3-2 when the veteran catcher teed off on a Wilson slider and deposited the baseball 415 feet into the left-field stands to give the Rays an 8-0 lead.

"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."

Meanwhile, Moore dazzled in his fourth Major League appearance, allowing no runs on two hits, while striking out six to pick up the win.

"Well, the thing is, my last start was at Yankee Stadium, and these guys put up two touchdowns by the fifth inning," Moore said. "And, you know, here we are again after I think the fourth or fifth and we had eight. And as a pitcher you see that many runs, your job is to get your team in the dugout as quick as possible. And the fastest way to do that is pound the zone."

Maddon said "you can't be more impressed" with what Moore accomplished.

"What he did tonight was spectacular," Maddon said. "What, seven innings, 97, 98 pitches, two hits? Great night."

Added Rangers manager Ron Washington: "He is a special kid. He really is. He got the lead and held on to it. You have to give him credit."

The 22-year-old left-hander looked smooth from the outset, using 18 pitches while striking out one in the first inning to record the first of his seven scoreless innings on the afternoon. Then the Rays' offense got busy in the top of the second.

Ben Zobrist got hit by a pitch to start the inning, and Johnny Damon followed with a 360-foot home run into the right-field stands. Shoppach then singled and moved to second on a ground out. One out later, Matt Joyce singled to put the Rays up 3-0.

"I got a fastball in and I didn't miss," Damon said. "That was a pretty silent crowd. When the ball was hit, I was expecting some oohs, and aahhs, but nothing. ... Obviously I was very happy to give our team a lead and Matt Joyce came up with another big hit in that inning, and Kelly Shoppach did some amazing things with the bat today."

Shoppach called Damon's home run "huge" for the way it allowed the Rays' offense to loosen up.

"What we do offensively is different than most people," Shoppach said. "We don't have a bunch of boppers out there. We have a little bit of speed and athleticism. Johnny hitting that home run helped us relax."

Washington was concise in his assessment of the Rays' offense Friday night.

"They swung the bat," Washington said. "They got the ball up to Shoppach; he hit it straightaway center field. Tried to get one in on Johnny Damon; didn't get there. Two-run bomb. It was just one of those days. [Wilson] just didn't get it done."

Now the Rays hold a 1-0 lead and they are looking good heading into Game 2 on Saturday in Arlington.

"We needed that kind of pitching performance to do what we did do today," Maddon said. "And tomorrow we have [No. 1 starter James] Shields coming back." Comments