Moore, Zobrist relishing All-Star experience
Young lefty, super utility man humbled by opportunity to represent AL
NEW YORK -- Two years ago, Matt Moore was pitching in the Southern League All-Star Game, and the Rays were talking about how Ben Zobrist was the most underrated player in baseball.
Two years later, Moore is preparing for an entirely different All-Star Game, this time in New York City, as opposed to Jackson, Tenn. And he came to New York alongside Zobrist, who's added a second All-Star selection to a year that's already seen him take part in the World Baseball Classic.
Suffice it to say things have changed quickly for the 24-year-old left-hander and the 32-year-old super utility man, both set to take the field for the American League in Tuesday night's Midsummer Classic.
"It's something that has absolutely taken me by surprise," said Moore, seated at a table next to Zobrist as the AL All-Stars met with the media. "It's been a great experience so far.
"The name plates that are surrounding me definitely make me feel extremely, extremely humbled to be in consideration to play with these guys. ... Not in my wildest dreams would I expect this to happen, so it's kind of something that's catching me by surprise."
Moore's selection was hardly a surprise for anyone in the Rays' organization, however. He was an eighth-round Draft pick out of Moriarty High School in New Mexico, arriving without much fanfare compared to the likes of David Price or Jeremy Hellickson. But he always had All-Star stuff, according to Rays director of Minor League operations Mitch Lukevics, even if he lacked Major League-ready control.
"He learned how to pitch a little bit more with his good stuff," Lukevics said. "Then you knew that someday [this] was going to happen."
Moore said he had his "Welcome to the All-Star Game" moment when he walked into the AL clubhouse Monday afternoon, with his locker between Zobrist and Twins closer Glen Perkins, and Mike Trout beside Robinson Cano.
"I feel more than lucky to be here, to be honest with you," Moore said. "It really is something that, as soon as we start to suit up and get closer to game time and get on the field, it'll hit me even more as far as what's actually going on around me. I try to be aware of my surroundings. This is definitely one of the coolest surroundings I've ever had."
Moore, 13-3 with a 3.44 ERA through 19 starts this season, said he received some words of wisdom from Rays lefty David Price. He got the usual advice -- don't let the fanfare overwhelm you, soak it all in and so on -- and at least one unusual tip, like Price's suggestion to not to wear a suit to Monday's media availability.
Moore came to New York with his mother, father, brother, sister-in-law and girlfriend, and he was focused Monday on trying to get his entire traveling party in the All-Star parade. He doesn't know when he'll pitch Tuesday night, if he does at all, but AL manager Jim Leyland said he wanted to get Moore into the game at some point.
"I'm ready for whatever, to be honest. If they need me, I'm here. If not, I'm sure whatever happens is going to be fun," Moore said. "I'm really just happy to be here. If I can be a part of it and chip in in the game, I'm all for it. If not, hopefully we can win and this could mean something a little later down the road."
If home-field advantage in the World Series winds up meaning anything to the Rays come October, it'll be in part because of Moore's efforts leading the pitching staff amid an injury-riddled first half for Price and an inconsistent opening by right-hander Jeremy Hellickson.
But Moore is the first one to admit he hasn't been perfect. He's tied for the Major League lead in wins partially because the Rays' offense has given him big leads to work with, and he went through a rough three-start stretch in June, when he allowed 19 earned runs in 12 1/3 innings and picked up his only three losses of the season.
"It's always just one inning, and then he's Cy Young. His confidence is good. You can see his composure," Price said. "Last year, he was kind of looking all over the place. This year, he's 100 percent focused on every pitch, and that's why he's been able to put up the numbers he has been. That's why he's an All-Star."
Zobrist, meanwhile, is an All-Star because he provides the kind of versatility few others possess.
While his ability to play anywhere on the diamond -- Zobrist said Monday he'd pitch Tuesday if Leyland asks -- and hit from both sides of the plate made him a valuable asset, it's been a down year by Zobrist's standards. He's still playing his usual brand of impressive defense at second base and right field -- and occasionally shortstop -- but he's hit just .260/.347/.383.
That's why Zobrist went ahead and made plans for the All-Star break. He was going to head home to Nashville and relax for four days. He said he didn't even know when the All-Star teams were going to be announced, and he had no idea what Rays manager Joe Maddon wanted when he called Zobrist into his office and slid an envelope with the news across the desk.
"It's been really nice for me to see. I have had a lot of people say, 'Well, you know people aren't noticing what you are able to do.' Our fans have always recognized that, my teammates have always recognized that. Everyone there has been so good to me, I never felt like people haven't recognized that. It's just been now, in the last year, that people are starting to recognize it, I think, maybe across Major League Baseball -- that versatility is important to the game to any team."
Indeed, quite a bit has changed in two years for Moore and Zobrist.
"To be sitting in one of these chairs is just way, way out of this world for me," Zobrist said. "It's a dream come true, for sure."
The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again have fans participating in the official voting for the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, fans will vote exclusively online at MLB.com via the 2013 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote, and their voice will represent 20 percent of the official vote determining the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.
The 2013 All-Star Game will be played at Citi Field on Tuesday. Come to MLB.com for extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.
The 84th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM also will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.