ST. PETERSBURG — The only time Alex Cobb stumbled during his first complete-game shutout Thursday was during the postgame celebration of the Rays' 5-0 win over the A's.
While leaping for a group shoulder bump on the mound with the rest of the rotation, the right-hander was accidentally knocked on his back by rookie Matt Moore.
"That wasn't part of the plan," Moore said, smiling. "But he bounced back."
Cobb certainly did, saying the outing was a "thank you" to his team for bailing him out in his last start at Anaheim, where he allowed eight runs in 2? innings before the Rays rallied for a 10-8 win. Cobb had better control of his thoughts and better command of his pitches, scattering four hits Thursday before 11,613 at the Trop, bringing the Rays (70-55) within 2½ games of the first-place Yankees in the AL East.
It's the closest the Rays have been to first since being 2½ out before games of June 16. It was also the Rays' seventh shutout since July 19.
"He's a tough guy, we know that," manager Joe Maddon said. "His hair is red for a reason. It's just who he is, and it doesn't surprise me that he's able to bounce back like he did. He does not want to be embarrassed like he was his last outing. … He was a big part of what we did last year and is doing the same thing again this year, and he's getting hot at the right time."
Cobb said he never doubted himself, knowing he had won three straight (going seven innings in each) in his previous three starts before Anaheim. He had command of all his pitches, especially his fastball, which gave him the better result.
"There was a lot of excitement all week," Cobb said. "I'm really happy I felt that way towards it instead of being scared and wondering if I'm going to get hit around again. I was really happy with the way I wanted to get the ball again and go back out there and compete."
Maddon was "really curious" how Cobb would respond and could tell from the start he was on target. The Rays gave Cobb all the offense he'd need with a five-run fifth off righty Tyson Ross, who was called up from Triple A to replace the suspended Bartolo Colon. Matt Joyce had the biggest of the five hits, a two-run double.
Cobb said that relieved the pressure, and he went on to attack hitters, making them put it in play. "Once we got up by five, my main thought was to go as deep as I could," Cobb said.
Knowing how much confidence can be derived from a complete game, Maddon allowed Cobb to start the ninth having thrown 101 pitches. Cobb walked Stephen Drew, and Maddon said Kyle Farnsworth would have relieved him if he didn't get the next hitter out.
Catcher Jose Molina visited the mound.
Cobb responded, getting Josh Reddick to ground into a double play, covering first himself, before striking out Yoenis Cespedes looking for the final out on his 113th pitch.
Cobb joked he felt like he was "being attacked" in a strobe-light clubhouse celebration, getting a whip cream pie smothered in his face and peppered by a Nerf gun. But he had no ill effects from Moore's bigger-than-expected bump on the mound.
"I've been getting on him, he's getting a little heavy; he's getting a little fat," Cobb said. "I think that proves my point a little bit."