DENVER — For all that had been going wrong and going on, Alex Cobb took the mound for the Rays on Sunday with a singular focus.
"I tried not to let the outside variables control anything today," Cobb said. "Between where I'm pitching, who I'm pitching against, what that situation is, you start thinking about those three things, or even more, and you stop thinking about the task at hand. I just tried to make pitches."
And that he did, for the most part rather well, working into the seventh inning as the Rays beat the Rockies 8-3.
The victory wrapped up the Rays' extended road trip at 4-5 and sent them home 14-16 overall, feeling cautiously better about themselves as they open a 10-game homestand tonight against Toronto.
"I still like the idea that we're playing right on that cusp, that verge of getting over the top and playing like we're capable of playing," manager Joe Maddon said. "I'm very pleased. You've got to be pleased with the effort. Sometimes a wounded dog is more dangerous."
At the least, the Rays were tired, navigating the David Price-umpire controversy, the much-hyped reunion with (and loss to) James Shields, and brutal weather conditions on their second three-city road trip of the month, having spent 22 of the last 28 nights on the road.
And shorthanded at shortstop, with Yunel Escobar hurt and Ben Zobrist leaving the team following the death of his grandmother.
That put the onus on Cobb to pitch well and pitch deep in the game since the Rays didn't have the personnel, especially under National League rules, to make many moves. And he kept Maddon from "any kind of chicanery" except changing pitchers.
"It was a must-win game for us, I feel like, to close out this road trip," Cobb said. "It feels like we've been on the road for a whole month, been through some tough times."
Cobb said pitching in the thin and dry air against the powerful Rockies lineup "has probably been the toughest challenge I've faced." He resorted to wetting his hair between his innings to have some moisture to work with and experimenting until he found a workable grip on his curve.
So to give up only three runs, albeit on three homers — "Timely home runs, I guess you could say," he said — wasn't too bad.
"When you're playing in zero gravity, man, you have to understand that's going to happen," Maddon said, "and you cannot let that bother you."
What also helped Cobb do so was the Rays offense, which has been better. The Rays took a 3-0 lead before Cobb even took the mound, with big hits by James Loney, who is up to .398, and Kelly Johnson.
After the Rockies drew to 3-2, the Rays added three in the sixth inning, Loney and Johnson getting them started and Ryan Roberts delivering a two-run double.
"It was awesome," Roberts said.
Jose Lobaton added a two-run single in the eighth.
"We knew we weren't going to keep going like we started," Johnson said. "So it's nice to finally see it coming and hopefully just keep it rolling."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]