Matt Moore walked off the mound to a standing ovation after the top of the sixth inning Saturday. He still hadn’t given up a hit to the high-scoring Cincinnati Reds in what was shaping up as the game of his life. But he also threw more pitches in his return to the Phillies’ starting rotation than in his last two relief appearances combined, so manager Joe Girardi made the decision to take him out.
Moore wasn’t surprised. He didn’t make a fuss either. He insisted he understood. If anything, the veteran lefty felt grateful for another chance to pitch.
“It feels good to still be here after the rough time that we’ve had throughout the course of the season,” Moore 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.”
With Moore watching from the clubhouse, the Phillies closed out the win, 6-1, if not the no-hitter. Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson broke up the latter with a leadoff home run against Archie Bradley in the eighth inning.
But the Phillies retained at least a share of the division lead and will send Aaron Nola to the mound Sunday with a chance to win the series and gain a split of a six-game homestand against the Dodgers and Reds, playoff contenders in the National League.
That, more than anything, was what mattered to Moore.
“I’ll be honest with you,” he said, “no part of me has ever really thought about like, ‘Man, it would be really important to get a no-hitter.’ I’ve been to the playoffs a few different years and that feeling, I’ve got to believe is better than any personal achievement that you can get in the middle of August.”
The Phillies signed Moore for $3 million in the offseason to help fortify the back of the rotation. Instead, he lost his spot in April after contact tracing landed him on the COVID-19 restricted list and again in July after the Phillies traded for Kyle Gibson and put closer Ranger Suarez in the rotation. Moore’s latest opportunity arose only because Zach Eflin is out with a balky knee and replacement Chase Anderson came down with a triceps injury last week.
Moore entered with a 6.98 ERA in nine starts and a 6.79 mark overall. In a relief appearance Tuesday night against the Dodgers, he faced four batters and got only one out. Before this game, Girardi outlined modest expectations -- “Give us whatever you’ve got,” he said, “and we’ll figure it out from there” -- and the Phillies recalled Adonis Medina from triple-A Lehigh Valley just in case they needed a long reliever.
But Moore turned back the clock to a time when he was regarded among the best young pitchers in baseball. Armed with a fastball that touched 95 mph and averaged 93, a bat-slowing changeup, and a knees-knocking curveball to neutralize left-handed hitters, he did more than fill a rotation vacancy. He dominated, leaving the Phillies tantalizingly close to the 14th no-hitter in franchise history.
The Phillies gave him only a 1-0 lead on Ronald Torreyes’ leadoff homer in the third inning. But Moore didn’t need the run support. He issued two walks and erased one with a double play. He faced 19 batters, one more than the minimum. He leaned on his changeup early in the game and rediscovered his cutter later. He got 15 swings and misses, seven with his changeup, and racked up eight strikeouts. He got Nick Castellanos on a changeup in the first inning, scorching-hot Joey Votto on a changeup in the fourth, Tyler Naquin on a cutter in the sixth, and Reds leadoff man Jonathan India three times overall.
“I thought he mixed his pitches really well,” Girardi said. “He’s an experience guy that’s won a lot of big games. He knows how to pitch. God, today he was outstanding. And I hated to take him out.”
Moore threw 76 pitches, his highest total since a 96-pitch start back on July 22. Girardi didn’t want to push it, especially because he will need Moore to start again, likely next Friday in San Diego.
With a runner on first, nobody out, and the Phillies leading by one run, Girardi let Moore bat in the bottom of the sixth. Moore dropped a sacrifice bunt, and two batters later, J.T. Realmuto lined a two-out RBI double to pad the lead. But in the tunnel between the dugout and the clubhouse, Girardi told Moore he was taking him out.
Moore figured he was in no position to argue.
“I kind of think coming into the game with nearly a 7 on my ERA, there’s something that don’t feel right about that, you know?” he 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. 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.”
If that was the case, it was only because Moore put them there and picked up his first win as a starter in the majors since April 17, 2018, with the Texas Rangers. He got a rousing ovation, too, from the announced crowd of 25,100, four days after being booed off the same mound.
“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.”