ST. LOUIS — – Alex Cobb was curled in the dirt by home plate, holding his right elbow and wondering if anything else could wrong this year as the pain from being struck by a pitch raced from his pitching elbow up to his shoulder.
“Initial thought was that I broke it, honestly,” Cobb said.
Rays manager Joe Maddon and head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield ran from the dugout. Cesar Ramos began warming in the bullpen. David Price ran to the clubhouse to put on his spikes in case he had to pinch-run for Cobb.
“I couldn’t believe it at the time,” Cobb said. “I finally felt good on the mound.”
His delivery was quicker, his fastball was sharp. Cobb was pitching with a one-run lead thanks to his first big league hit, a double to right field that drove in the game’s first run.
“There were so many different thoughts,” Maddon said when asked what he was thinking when he saw Cobb go down.
But Cobb got up and took his base.
His elbow was not broken. All he had was a small cut.
And he continued with his night, pitching the Rays to a 3-0 victory over the Cardinals in front of a full house at Busch Stadium.
The Rays extended their winning streak to a season-high seven and swept the five-game road trip through Minneapolis and St. Louis to extend their road winning streak to eight.
They also closed to within 4 1/2 games of the Mariners for the second Wild Card spot in the American League and moved to within four games of .500, the closest they’ve been to .500 since May 7.
“We couldn’t have been more right than 5-0,” Maddon said.
It was the first time in team history the Rays went undefeated during a road trip of at least two cities, and it came at the right time as they try to climb into the playoff picture while convincing the front office that there will not be any need to trade Price or anyone else at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Cobb, who allowed five hits, struck out 10 and didn’t walk a batter, won his fourth straight decision to even his record at 6-6.
“That’s Cobber right there,” Maddon said. “We haven’t seen that in a while.”
Cobb said he felt horrible Tuesday during the 10-pitch bullpen session he throws the day before he pitches. After the way he threw, Cobb said he certainly didn’t expect to pitch the way he did Wednesday.
But Cobb said he ironed out a flaw in his mechanics Wednesday while playing catch before his pregame bullpen. He didn’t want to go into details but called it an “ah-ha” moment.
Maddon said he saw a snappier delivery with very little hesitation.
“He was on-time with everything and the ball was moving great,” Maddon said.
Cobb put the Rays in front 1-0 in the second inning when he doubled down the right field line to score Yunel Escobar.
“That’s the coolest thing I’ve done in my career,” Cobb said.
It was the first hit in the major leagues by a player named Cobb since Ty’s last career hit on Sept. 3, 1928.
“That’s unbelievable,” Cobb said.
It was also the first go-ahead RBI by a Rays pitcher since James Shields at Florida on May 22, 2011 and the first extra-base hit by a Rays pitcher since Andy Sonnanstine doubled against the Indians on May 17, 2009 in a game where Sonnanstine had to bat because of a mix-up on the lineup card that had Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist listed as the third baseman.
It was the second straight night in which the pitcher drove in the Rays first run of the game. Jake Odorizzi turned the trick Tuesday with a sacrifice bunt.
“I was secretly hoping it would be a 1-0 game,” Cobb joked.
Longoria drove in the second run during the seventh inning with a sacrifice fly and Brandon Guyer singled home Desmond Jennings in the ninth.
Jake McGee followed a perfect inning by Brad Boxberger by striking out the side in the ninth for his eighth save as the Rays shut out an opponent for the 11 time this season.
Cobb, Boxberger and McGee combined to strike out 15 batters without a walk.
“That’s incredible,” Maddon said.
Almost incredible as the way Cobb came off the deck to finish the game.
Cobb was batting with one out in the fourth inning when he was hit by a 2-0 pitch from Lance Lynn. He said the pain subsided while he was on first base and the elbow didn’t get tight until the seventh inning.
Maddon said whatever fear he had was alleviated when Cobb returned to the mound in the bottom of the inning and threw several times to catcher Jose Molina while the grounds crew filled a hole on the mound.
“He didn’t wince,” Maddon said. “He was fine from the very first throw.”
Cobb’s first pitch of the inning to Matt Holliday was a ball. He then struck out Holliday on his next three pitches.
Maddon was glad Cobb was able to continue.
“After the inning when he was under the tunnel I said, ‘Listen man, I don’t want to lose your bat,’ ” Maddon said.