ST. PETERSBURG — Once again the Rays’ season rests on the shoulders of Alex Cobb, and once again the right-hander is eager to save the season.
“It’s win or go home,” Cobb said Sunday. “So I don’t want to be the one sending us home. I’m going to give it everything I got out there.”
Cobb, who beat Cleveland in Wednesday’s wild-card game, faces Clay Buchholz of the Boston Red Sox tonight at Tropicana Field in Game 3 of the American League Division Series. The Red Sox lead the best-of-five series 2-0 after sweeping the first two games at Fenway Park.
“Situation we’re in right now, there’s no panic. We have Alex Cobb on the mound,” Chris Archer said. “There’s nobody in the league that a team doesn’t want to face less than Alex Cobb. So we’re good. We know that.”
Said Evan Longoria, “I think Cobb has such a winner’s attitude. He has that bulldog mindset when he gets on the mound.”
Cobb, 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA in 22 starts during his concussion-interuppted season, faced the Red Sox four times this year. He went 0-1 while the Rays lost all four games.
“He’s got good stuff, man,” Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz said. “I watched him pitch the other day against Cleveland. He’s tough. Tampa has great pitching, man. You can never doubt them. You’ve got to fight, play well. They’re just like us. The minute you make a mistake, they will hunt you down.”
Cobb said he was a little anxious during the game against the Indians. The noise at sold-out Progressive Field got to him a bit, as did the enormity of the situation. Still, he gutted his way through 6ª scoreless innings despite not being on top of his game.
“Love to see him come out (tonight) with the whole package working for him, because he’s very difficult when that occurs,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Cobb said he learned a few things about pitching in big games during that night in Cleveland. That being too amped messes with his command, and when that happens his pitches tend to stay up in the zone. He was able to get away with that against the Indians by making the right pitch at the right time to escape a pair of jams.
The Red Sox are less forgiving.
“Once you go through something once you know what to expect,” Cobb said. “You’re able to wrap your head around it a little bit better. ... It’s not going to be easy, but I feel like being able to have gone through this situation with our backs against the wall, we’ve done it before.
“We know what it takes to do it again, and it was just something different about the way this ballclub played when our lives were on the line. Hopefully, we can see that show up (tonight) and the next three nights.”
Whether Jeremy Hellickson gets to pitch Game 4 on Tuesday depends in large part to what Cobb can do tonight against a Red Sox lineup that scored 19 runs and hit .352 as a team while winning the first two games of this series.
The Rays like their chances of playing Game 4 because of their Game 3 starter.
“He’s been nails the whole year,” Kelly Johnson said. “Alex has been so consistent. I think we pretty much know what we’re going to get from him every time out. We hope we get to see that again.
“Obviously being at home and playing with your back against the wall in a sudden-death situation is a big deal. It’s a lot of pressure. But I think he’s certainly shown that he can handle it.”