Ben Zobrist left the team to join his family after the death of his grandmother. Yunel Escobar could not play because of a bruised left hand suffered Saturday night.
As a result, the Rays bench was two players short, meaning they were down two pinch-hitters in the later innings.
Oh, and it was the final game on a long road trip that was short on wins but not drama.
The Rays needed a big day from pitcher Alex Cobb, a long outing that would reduce the need for pinch-hitters and increase the likelihood of getting out of Colorado with a win that would make the long flight home seem shorter and create, perhaps, a little momentum into the 10-game homestand that begins tonight.
And Cobb delivered.
The Rays won 8-3 behind Cobb's pitching and a strong showing by the offense, which jumped to an early lead and tacked on runs in the later innings.
“It was a must-win game for us I feel like to close out this road trip,” Cobb said. “It feels like we've been on the road for a whole month, been through some tough times.”
John Denver's “Rocky Mountain High” was playing loudly in manager Joe Maddon's office afterward, a sign from Maddon that all is good in the Rays world.
The Rays went 4-5 on the three-city trip. They ended with their first series victory in four trips to Coors Field. Maddon said the Rays played well enough to win more games on the trip, and they did. But they didn't because the pitching caved in or the offense didn't show up or it snowed.
“I still like the idea that we're playing right on that cusp, that verge of getting over the top and playing like we're capable of playing,” Maddon said. “I'm very pleased. You got to be pleased with the effort. Sometimes a wounded dog is more dangerous.”
Sean Rodriguez started at shortstop in place of both Escobar and Zobrist.
The lack of bench depth meant Kelly Johnson was going to play the entire game in left field, since Maddon needed Johnson in the game in case something happened to an infielder.
What Maddon was hoping for was an American League-type game in a National League park, one the Rays could play straight up without the need for pinch-hitters and double-switches.
And that's what he received.
“Cobber prevented any kind of chicanery from occurring because he pitched so well,” Maddon said.
Jennings singled to start the game. Matt Joyce followed with a walk. One out later James Loney singled to left-center field to score Jennings. Kelly Johnson singled home Joyce and Loney, and Cobb had a three-run lead before he even left the dugout.
Cobb, who won his fourth game, allowed three runs in 62/3 innings. All three came on solo home runs. But he never surrendered the lead, something that has dogged this staff this season.
“It was Cobb's day, and he took control of the game,” said Ryan Roberts, who doubled home the final two runs in a three-run sixth inning that turned a 3-2 lead into a 6-2 lead.
Jose Lobaton added a two-run single in the eighth to put the game out of reach.
“We did have the good grind-it-out at-bats,” Maddon said.
Cobb said he was aware of the need for a deep outing, but he tried to not let that cloud his focus.
“A little bit that crossed my mind, not too much,” he said. “I tried not to let the outside variables control anything.”
As he did after Friday's 10-inning victory, Maddon saw signs Sunday that his underachieving team is ready to flip the script.
“I want to believe that we're going to pitch to our level at home. I want to,” he said. “I know we're a pretty good offensive team on the road also. I saw those numbers. Overall I think we're swinging the bats better … better approach. We need Zo back. Get Escobar back. I like the approach at the plate. Now let's get back to pitching our game, play our game and get on a little roll.”
Tampa Bay Rays
Cobb leads Rays to series win over Rockies