ST. PETERSBURG -- The shortstop for the Texas Rangers had four hits on Tuesday night and was in the middle of three double plays. He also did it while playing the position in the Major Leagues for the first time, with Elvis Andrus back in Texas with a broken right elbow and Jurickson Profar still in the concussion protocol.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa filled in admirably in their absence, seemingly involved in almost everything while leading the Rangers to a 7-2 victory over the Rays. Kiner-Falefa helped make Matt Moore's return to Tropicana Field a successful one, as Moore held the Rays to one run over seven innings for his first win with the Rangers.
"I thought Matt Moore pitched an unbelievable game," Kiner-Falefa said. "For me, it's just confidence. The biggest thing is getting comfortable and gaining confidence. I've felt comfortable, but today I was seeing the ball well and putting good swings on it."
Moore was 0-3 with an 8.76 ERA in his first three starts, but looked completely comfortable in his old home park against his former ballclub. He allowed just five hits, walked two and struck out six.
"Just being on the mound -- that's probably one of my favorite mounds, just from staring down from it so many times," Moore said. "It's been good."
The five hits and one of the walks came in the first three innings. Moore allowed just a walk and a hit batter over the final four and is only the second Rangers starter to pitch at least seven innings in a start.
"It was nice to get the goose egg out of the win column," Moore said. "We are all trying to stack as many wins as you can. That stat is what it is; it's nice to be on this side for once."
The Rangers also handed Rays rookie right-hander Yonny Chirinos his first loss. Chirinos entered the game having not allowed a run in 14 1/3 innings over his first two starts and one relief appearance. But Kiner-Falefa's first single helped the Rangers scratch out a run in the first to end that streak. Chirinos ended up allowing six runs in 5 2/3 innings.
Kiner-Falefa was part of a makeshift infield put together because of injuries to Andrus, Profar, second baseman Rougned Odor and center fielder Delino DeShields. With Joey Gallo back in the outfield, the Rangers had rookies Ronald Guzman at first, Drew Robinson at second and Kiner-Falefa at short to go with veteran third baseman Adrian Beltre.
Those three combined to go 6-for-14, with Robinson beating out a bunt and scoring a run in the second, and Guzman delivering a two-run double in a three-run fifth that allowed the Rangers to open up a 5-1 lead.
But Kiner-Falefa led the way with his four hits. The Rangers scored in every inning that he had a hit and he was smooth defensively, despite one error when he hurried a throw after fielding a carom off Beltre's glove.
"He did a good job bouncing back from that," manager Jeff Banister said. "He's having fun playing baseball. He's talented and we saw in Spring Training that he's not afraid. He has the heart and he has the courage and he goes out and plays baseball."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Twin killings stop rallies: The Rangers turned two double plays to get Moore out of early jams. The Rays had two on with one out in the second when Kiner-Falefa caught Mallex Smith's line drive near second base and beat the runner to the bag. In the third, the Rays had runners at the corners with one out when Moore got Wilson Ramos to hit a grounder up the middle. Robinson ranged to his right to field it, flipped it to Kiner-Falefa for the force and he had to do a 180-turn before firing to first to complete the double play. The Rangers turned four double plays on the night.
Shin-Soo Choo smashed his fourth home run of the season deep to right field in the sixth and it was quite a sight. Choo hit it off the D catwalk above the right-field bleachers for a projected distance of 446 feet, making it the second longest for Choo since Statcast™ began in 2015. It was one foot shy of his longest, hit last Sept. 1 against the Angels.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Robertson loses grip: Rays leadoff hitter Daniel Robertson had the Rangers up in arms in his first at-bat of the game. Not once but twice Robertson lost the grip on his bat swinging at pitches. Both times the bat sailed in the direction of the Rangers dugout. Nobody was hurt, but Martin Perez suggested that Bartolo Colon put on a helmet.
• Perez protects Colon by giving him a helmet
"It's all fun and games," Robertson said. "That's what's going to happen whenever that stuff happens. I just try to laugh it off. Done it my whole life, so it's really no story, or answer, or question why I do it."
HE SAID IT
"The table got set very well tonight with Choo and Kiner. I think they were on base eight times between them. It was one of our better offensive nights." -- Banister
Left-hander Cole Hamels will make his third career start in Tropicana Field when he pitches against the Rays at 12:10 p.m. CT Wednesday. Hamels' first start in Tropicana Field was Game 1 of the 2008 World Series, when he allowed two runs in seven innings in the Phillies' 3-2 victory. He ended up being the World Series MVP. He will be opposed by right-hander Jake Faria.