ST. PETERSBURG — Right-hander Alex Cobb said he can't explain his historic, and strange, start in Friday's 6-3 come-from-behind win over the Padres.
"It was just one of those weird days," he said.
No pitcher in major-league history has struck out as many as Cobb did — a career-high 13 — in an outing that lasted fewer than five innings. He struck out all four batters he faced in the third but allowed a run, becoming the first since inning records are available (1984) to complete that feat.
"That's about as bizarre as it gets," manager Joe Maddon said.
But second baseman Ryan Roberts had a theory for why Cobb pitched so well in a 117-pitch outing that lasted just 4⅔ innings, ending Tampa Bay's seasonlong streak of 34 straight starts of at least five innings.
"His stuff was too good," said Roberts, who delivered the go-ahead, two-run single in the Rays' four-run seventh. "His stuff was moving so much that they just kept foul ball, foul ball, foul ball, and his pitch count went up. … It was A-plus stuff."
The Padres fouled off 27 of Cobb's pitches, including four by leadoff man Everth Cabrera in a nine-pitch at-bat to start the game.
Cobb gave up solo homers in the first to Will Venable and Carlos Quentin, but the Padres' third-inning rally was beyond wacky. Cobb struck out all four batters, but Venable reached on a wild pitch as he struck out, stole second and third, and scored on a balk.
"I was very mad at myself," Cobb said. "After that balk, I don't know if I've been any angrier while I'm pitching."
Cobb wasn't necessarily pleased with his outing, but the historical footnotes, including joining Jeremy Hellickson as the only two Rays to strike out four in an inning, shined a "positive light on it."
The Rays tied a franchise record for most strikeouts (18) in a nine-inning game (Aug. 28, 2011 at Toronto).
Cobb struck out the first two batters of the fifth before walking Yonder Alonso and getting pulled, drawing a standing ovation from the 12,424 at the Trop. Cobb said he knew the resurgent offense, which leads the majors in runs scored the past 22 games, would come around.
"In the past, there might have been a little doubt in your mind," Cobb said. "But the way this offense is swinging the bat, I knew if I kept them there, we'd win the ball game."
The Rays (17-18) did just that in a four-run seventh, loading the bases with no outs against former Rays reliever Dale Thayer. Catcher Jose Lobaton led off with an infield single, but Maddon said the key play was Thayer's throwing error on Yunel Escobar's attempted sacrifice bunt.
"It's not easy to bunt Lobaton anywhere successfully," Maddon quipped. "But that was Escobar, on his own, perfect bunt, and it really opened that inning up."
Roberts and Ben Zobrist each had two-run singles as the Rays batted around, and the recently struggling Tampa Bay bullpen threw 4⅓ hitless innings, including a sharp season debut for Josh Lueke.
"It was really incredible to watch," Maddon said. "It was an awkward game, it was a bizarre kind of game the way it played out. But we'll take the win."