Friday, November 24, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

After Cobb's stellar return to Rays, time to exhale

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ST. PETERSBURG

Sitting in Section 106, Row BB, Seat 3 at Tropicana Field on Thursday night, Rick Cobb nervously leaned forward, elbows on knees, and watched his son Alex do something he hasn't done in two months, something he wondered if his son would ever do again — throw a pitch in a major-league baseball game.

Rick remembers the last time Alex had done that.

"Yeah, I remember it. Vividly," Rick said. "Frightening. It was frightening."

That was back on June 15, in this same stadium, on this same pitching mound, with Rick sitting in the same stands.

Cruising along that day in a another solid start of his sensational season, Cobb had his world come to a crashing halt when he was struck in the head, at the top of the right ear, with a screaming line drive traveling at more than 102 mph. Cobb, 25, was carted off in a neck brace on a stretcher.

"In all my (65) years in professional baseball," said Rays special adviser Don Zimmer, "I've seen guys hit before, but that's the hardest I've ever seen someone hit. I was afraid he wasn't going to wake up."

Cobb's girlfriend, Kelly Reynolds, also sitting in Section 106 on Thursday night, said, "That was my worst nightmare, that night."

Forget about Cobb pitching again, Reynolds had a greater concern: "I was just glad he was alive."

For the next two months, Cobb battled through headaches, dizziness, fatigue and all the complications that come with vertigo. One thing he never battled was doubt.

"The thought of never pitching again never crept into my mind," Cobb said. "My first thought was how quickly can I get back out there. I, obviously, was a little bit naive. I didn't realize the severity of the injury."

Still, his plan to return to the majors never wavered, even though some around him wondered if that was a good idea.

"I'm an accountant," Reynolds said. "And I was like, 'Are you sure you just don't want to coach? Maybe coach a Little League team?' But he's a pitcher. That's what he was born to do."

And so there he was again Thursday night, doing what he was born to do and doing it well. After three minor-league appearances, Cobb started for the Rays against the Mariners. And he was superb, allowing only one run and three hits over five innings and picking up the win in a 7-1 victory.

But the ramifications of the game and the outcome, as important as it was for the Rays in the midst of a pennant race, really did pale in comparison to the fact that Cobb was back on the mound again.

"It was awesome," he said. "It's a feeling you can't duplicate anywhere else but being out on the mound competing at the big-league level. It was definitely a great experience to have gone through everything I went through."

It wasn't easy to do what Cobb did Thursday night.

The right-hander taking the mound was like getting back in a car after a serious automobile accident. It was like walking in the woods after being bitten by a snake.

"It's like lightning striking," Rick Cobb said. "And the first thing I thought about is let's get this over with and hopefully lightning won't strike twice."

But as much as you try to convince yourself it can't happen again, that lightning can't possibly strike twice in the same spot, how difficult must it be to throw a ball as hard as you can, knowing the best hitters in the world are a mere 60 feet away trying to hit it back at you as hard as they can?

Yet nothing about Cobb's performance Thursday suggested there were any residual effects from that horrible day two months ago. He never thought about being hit back in June. He didn't think about being hit again.

His last pitch Thursday was a strike three with the bases loaded in the top of the fifth. Under normal circumstances, Cobb would have marched on to the sixth inning. But after being sidelined for two months and his pitch count at 88, Cobb was done for the night.

So was the nightmarish chapter of his career.

"I just really want to be back to normal," Cobb said. "I want to stop talking about it. I want to stop getting attention for anything other than what's going on on the field. And I think we can do that now that this game is past us."

And when Cobb's night was done, Rick Cobb could be found in Section 106 and Row BB, leaning back comfortably in Seat 3.

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