PHILADELPHIA -- Moments and feelings like these are fleeting.
That sentiment ran through Phillies left-hander Matt Moore’s mind as he left the mound in the sixth inning in Saturday’s 6-1 victory over the Reds at Citizens Bank Park. Fans stood and cheered him because he had not allowed a hit through six scoreless innings. They applauded because they appreciated an unexpected performance from a beleaguered starter, particularly with first place on the line in the National League East.
Earlier this week, fans booed following a rough relief appearance against Los Angeles.
“A day like today, coming off the field, it’s something you wish you could put in a bottle and open up someday or relive it,” Moore said. “It’s what I was talking to myself about coming off the field. How good this feels to contribute in that way, right? And to be a part of the winning. In the end, I think it feels just like you think it would.”
Moore struck out eight Reds swinging: four on changeups, two on curveballs and one each on a fastball and a cutter. He walked two. His performance ensured the Phillies (61-56) will wake up Sunday with at least a share of first place in the National League East.
“He was brilliant,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said.
But Girardi chose right-hander Héctor Neris to pitch the seventh. Moore threw 76 pitches, so fans expected to see more. But Moore threw a combined 62 in the previous 17 days. Girardi said he did not want to push him too far and risk injury, knowing the Phillies are desperate for starting pitching.
“I hate to do this to you,” Girardi told Moore in the dugout. “We need you to make another start. I can’t hurt you.”
Moore entered the game with a 6.79 ERA. He said he understood.
“I don’t really know if I had a reaction to what he was saying,” Moore said. “Where we’re at in the division, coming into today, I’m a Phillie before anything else, right? This is about the win today. So there wasn’t much on my mind when I knew that we had a rested bullpen and a one-run lead that we were going to be in good hands.”
In fact, he said he never made a case for himself.
“I think coming into the game with nearly a 7.00 ERA, there’s something that doesn’t feel right about that, you know?” he said.
Moore signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Phillies in the offseason following an intriguing 2020 season in Japan. The Phillies had modest expectations, but they hoped he could be competitive and give them five innings more often than not.
He had a 9.82 ERA after his first three starts, then landed on the COVID-19 injured list in April because of contact tracing. He rejoined the team a week later, but he lost his job to Vince Velasquez and moved to the bullpen.
Moore had a 3.68 ERA in six relief appearances in May, then landed on the IL with a back injury. He spent much of June with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but rejoined the Phillies on June 25 for a doubleheader against the Mets at Citi Field. He pitched well enough to take Spencer Howard’s spot in the rotation. Moore had a 5.86 ERA in a six-start stretch through July 27. He lost his job to Kyle Gibson, whom the Phillies acquired in a July 30 trade with the Rangers.
A recent injury to Chase Anderson forced the Phillies to turn to Moore again.
Moore is grateful for another opportunity.
He is grateful to be wearing a Phillies uniform.
“It feels good to still be here after the rough time that we’ve had throughout the course of the season,” he said. “To be able to come through, whether it be in the bullpen or in the rotation or somewhere in between, really, is all I want to do. Be a part of it and contribute in a positive way and be around these guys.”
Neris pitched a scoreless seventh. Archie Bradley allowed a leadoff homer to Tyler Stephenson in the eighth, spoiling the Phillies’ bid to throw their first no-hitter since Cole Hamels’ gem against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 25, 2015. It would have been the Phillies’ first combined no-hitter since Hamels, Jake Diekman, Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon threw one against the Braves on Sept. 1, 2014, at Turner Field.
“I had no idea [about the no-hitter], Archie had no idea,” said Phillies closer Ian Kennedy, who pitched a scoreless ninth. “You can only see so many screens. As the game is going on, the guy is dominating so you just want him to get ahead of guys, get 1-2-3 innings.”
Moore earned another opportunity next week. Maybe he can bottle up more of those same feelings.