ST. LOUIS — What happened at the plate made Wednesday night memorable for Alex Cobb, as he dealt with the joy of doubling in a run on his first big-league hit and the agony of thinking his elbow was broken when hit by a pitch.
But what he did on the mound was most significant, making a slight adjustment in pregame warmups that led back to his old form over seven sterling innings, and leading the Rays to a seventh straight win, 3-0 over the Cardinals.
"That was Cobber right there," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "We haven't seen that for a bit."
The Rays not only extended their season-best winning streak, but in sweeping three from the Twins and two from the Cardinals, they completed their first undefeated multicity road trip in franchise history.
The Rays have won 16 of 20 and 25 of 36 to improve to 49-53. With the trade deadline a week away, they moved within 4½ games of the Mariners for the second AL wild-card spot, though with four teams between them, and seven behind the AL East-leading Orioles, who lost to the Angels.
Third baseman Evan Longoria delivered a sac fly and made several dazzling defensive plays, Brandon Guyer knocked in an insurance run and Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee got the last six outs, five on strikeouts.
But the story of the game was Cobb.
The double in the second inning — a slicing shot down the rightfield line with two outs — was his first hit, and the first extra-base hit for a Rays pitcher since Andy Sonnanstine doubled in May 2009 vs. Cleveland.
"That's the coolest thing I've done in my big-league career, doubling in a run," said Cobb, who was batting eighth.
But as good as that felt, his next at-bat in the fourth was painfully bad.
Cobb took a cut at a 94 mph fastball from Lance Lynn but was struck on the right elbow and crumbled, writhing in obvious pain, pounding the ground, thinking his elbow was broken and his season over.
"Honestly, I really did think that," he said. "There was a shooting pain from my elbow up into my shoulder."
But after a few moments, the pain subsided and he felt good enough to head to first base. The Rays had David Price ready to pinch-run and Cesar Ramos warming in the bullpen — "so many different thoughts,'' Maddon said — but as the inning flipped Cobb went to the mound, threw a few warmups with Maddon and head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield watching carefully, and stayed in. "He didn't wince,'' Maddon said. "From the very first toss, from the look on his face to how he was throwing ball, I thought he was fine.''
Cobb felt so too, and certainly pitched that way. He said he felt a little tightness warming up for the seventh but that went away, so he had only a scrape to show for the scary incident.
The most important development of the night occurred hours earlier. After a light Tuesday bullpen session so discouraging Cobb admitted he "was really not looking forward" to pitching, he found something — he wouldn't say exactly what — at the start of his warmups Wednesday. The slight adjustment allowed him to shorten the pause in his delivery and synch up everything else — "Snappier," was how Maddon described it — and left Cobb the most comfortable he has felt since coming off the DL in late May.
"Once I started playing catch, it's just like an a-ha moment," he said. "You realize that and you can go out there and be aggressive and pitch again and not do things mechanically."
For the Rays, that was just one of several things that once again worked out.Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Ray