Tampa Bay Rays
Last K.C. trip a big moment for Cobb
Alex Cobb flew into Kansas City ahead of the team during a road trip last June so he could rest for his start the following night while the Rays completed a day/night doubleheader in Philadelphia.
The bullpen was short one arm with Joel Peralta serving his suspension after being caught with pine tar on his glove. As if that wasn't enough, the bullpen was further taxed when the Rays finished off the doubleheader sweep by using four relief pitchers in a 7-3 victory.
Watching the game from the comfort of his hotel room, Cobb had this thought: “I have to go deep against the Royals.”
After three innings, it was 6-0 Royals.
“This stinks,” Cobb remembered thinking as he headed to the dugout. “This stinks for everybody.”
No one was stirring in the Rays bullpen, because no one was available. Cesar Ramos, Wade Davis and Brandon Gomes — the choices to bail out a struggling starter who can't make it to the middle innings — each pitched 22/3 innings the day before.
Cobb had to go back out for the fourth inning. And the fifth inning. And the sixth.
“There were no John Wayne speeches or anything like that, but he certainly knew what the situation was and what was at stake,” pitching coach Jim Hickey said. “If he comes out of that game in the third inning, the bullpen is set back for two weeks.”
Cobb never did come out of the game. He pitched eight innings, saved the bullpen and earned the first complete game of his career in an 8-0 loss.
“In the face of that adversity, the easiest thing in the world would have been to fold up the tent and let the bullpen take over, but the bullpen was a little bit banged at that time,” Hickey said. “There are a lot of veteran pitchers around who couldn't do what he did that day. It was one of those things where it was show me, don't tell me, and he certainly showed us.”
Cobb is scheduled to return to the same mound Tuesday when the Rays begin a three-game series against the Royals.
The 25-year-old right-hander, along with lefty Matt Moore, is one of the two bright spots this season in the Rays rotation.
In four starts, Cobb is 3-1 with a 1.82 ERA.
Since Aug. 1, Cobb is 10-2 with a 2.70 ERA.
It would be easy to say Cobb learned a few things about himself on that June night in Kansas City that led to the impressive run, except he lost four of his next five starts and failed to make it past 31/3 innings in two of them. Besides, Cobb knows he's a fighter on the mound.
That's what Hickey, Rays manager Joe Maddon and his teammates quickly learned, which is the silver lining to what was otherwise a forgettable night.
“I definitely think it added some trust in me from their point of view,” Cobb said. “I'm not going to give up out there. I'm never going to give up. I'm going to keep fighting as hard as I can as long as I got the ball in my hand. I think that's what came out of that game. It wasn't a learning moment. It was more of them realizing I'm going to fight as long as I'm out there.”
It was the ultimate take-one-for-the-team moment. Nothing says “teammate” more than a guy who does that, especially a pitcher.
“We've had a few guys along the way here where that wouldn't have been the case,” Hickey said.
Said Maddon, who was hoping to give his bullpen the night off: “To me it demonstrated selflessness, a great teammate, character, make-up — all those things are revealed in that moment. If you're a teammate of a guy like that, he's absolutely won you over at that moment.”
Said Ben Zobrist, who played right field that night: “He really showed some toughness there and really showed some grit and showed the team mentality.”
Said Cobb: “That's the rep you want to have. You don't want the rep of a guy who is only looking out for himself on the mound, the guy who's worried about his ERA.”
Cobb allowed eight runs on 13 hits. He didn't walk a batter. He threw 113 pitches, the same number he threw in nine innings Aug. 23 against the Oakland A's when he earned the first complete-game shutout of his career.
He wasn't hit hard as much as he was hit often. He was in the strike zone and the Royals were swinging at everything. Cobb continued to throw his fastball and his fastball started doing its job, because he allowed only two hits during his final four innings.
“It never crossed my mind about coming out,” Cobb said. “When you give up runs you think, 'OK, this is going to be tough to come back,' but you try to keep your team in the game. But when it got out of hand, when it got to be seven runs, that's when I became selfish. I said, 'OK, you need to make something positive out of this,' because I can make this look not as bad as it is.”
In the end, Cobb came away looking pretty good.
“It comes down to he truly wanted to do that for all the right reasons, and it wasn't about him,” Maddon said. “Too many times it's about the guy, and it's hard to win with guys like that. He saved the bullpen for days. He made an impact on so many people by doing what he did.”