TORONTO — Alex Cobb was walking off the Rogers Centre mound after an impressive Wednesday's work shackling the potent Blue Jays, leaving just seven outs for the bullpen to get and a five-run margin to play with, and there was only one thing on his mind.
Not that he was about to win his first game in nearly two years. Not about all the work and time he put in to return to the majors. Not how remarkably close to being back to top form he looked in his just his third start.
"I was still angry about that last pitch," Cobb said. "It had the action I wanted, but it started off in a bad location, and it was never a strike. … I didn't execute."
Eventually, after Ryan Garton finished off that inning, and his Rays teammates closed out the 8-1 victory over the Blue Jays, Cobb was able to relish the satisfaction of his first victory since Sept. 23, 2014.
"I love winning," he said. "It's why starters go out there. You want to win a ball game. You want to work deep into the ball game."
Cobb's actual pitching, especially when he regains better command of that fickle changeup, will be a huge boost to the Rays next season as they seek to reverse a streak of three losing seasons.
But the leadership he provides, the example he sets, the presence he exudes, the care he shows, are even more valuable, illustrative of how important he can be and how much he was missed.
"He's probably the hardest on himself of any pitcher I've ever seen — maybe David Price is a close second," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "It's good to have a guy like that out there again. You see the intensity on every pitch. And his tempo was great today. He got into a great rhythm after the first inning. …
"I know how hard he worked to get back to this point. Win, lose or draw it's great to have him as the leader, or one of the leaders, definitely the emotional leader out there.
"When he goes out there, I think he's that bulldog that we've been looking for."
Second-year manager Kevin Cash marvels at how effective in throwing strikes and efficient overall Cobb has been given how long he was out, having gotten hurt in spring training 2015.
And he has been just as impressed with how Cobb, with the most baseball smarts and experience of the starters, has impacted the team on the days he isn't working.
"He's generally the first pitcher to go over to the pitcher that comes out of the game to talk about the outing," Cash said. "You can tell he cares a ton.
"And he's doing everything I would imagine with the younger guys, trying to help those guys and discuss different situations."
Cobb, 29 in October, doesn't limit his sharing to the pitchers, last week suggesting to outfielder and good friend Steven Souza Jr. that he take a simplified try-easier approach that has made a big difference.
"He really has that mentality of just a mature ace, of handling a staff and a clubhouse and just the way he goes about every little detail of his business," Souza said.
"He handles everything like a total professional."
Cobb saw enough of buddy Matt Moore's return to know it won't necessarily always be as smooth as Wednesday. He allowed a leadoff double that led to a first-inning run but hardly anything else, retiring 11 straight before giving up his only other hit and throwing 93 pitches. And he, eventually, felt good about it.
"There's some things I know I can help some of the younger guys with," Cobb said. "Things you can only learn from watching guys on the mound, things that I learned watching David and (James) Shields, that you had to rip the ball out of their hands come the seventh, eighth inning.
"They were going to be out there no matter what damage was done to them or what kind of shape the bullpen was in or what the game situation was. And that's what I want to do: go out, throw seven, eight innings each start. I didn't think I'd have much realistic opportunity given the pitch counts and stuff. But now that I've gotten to that point, there is no going back. I'm going to keep pushing that envelope."
Of course he is.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.