ST. PETERSBURG — So all it took was having a 20-foot python in the clubhouse Thursday afternoon for the Rays to look normal again?
There was more than just manager Joe Maddon's latest motivational ploy in the 7-1 win over Seattle that seemed to set the Rays world right again as they won for the second straight day after losing six in a row.
Alex Cobb was back on the mound for the first time since being hit in the head by a line drive on June 15, and he looked and pitched pretty much as he had been, at least until fading in the fifth.
Evan Longoria, who staggered through an extended slump, continued to look more like himself, with a two-run homer in the fifth that pretty much put the game away.
And Wil Myers, who went hitless for most of a week until a homer Wednesday, rapped three hits and drove in four runs.
"All the ingredients were there obviously, up and down," Maddon said.
Making the evening even better, the Rays (68-51) moved back within two games of the American League East lead as the Red Sox lost again.
Cobb already was ahead of the game in returning to the Tropicana Field mound two months to the day after being hit in the head. And he came back as a winner, working five mostly solid innings, allowing three hits, walking two and striking out six.
"I'm happy with everything that happened (Thursday night)," Cobb said. "Everything felt good, once I stepped out there and got back with a batter in the box it felt really like another game."
The Mariners took a 1-0 lead on one of the few mistakes Cobb made, a 2-and-1 pitch that Raul Ibanez knocked over the fence for his 25th home run.
The Rays tied it in the third when Myers singled with two on and one out to score Sam Fuld, but, representative of their recent struggles, they did not get more from what looked to be a promising situation.
The game was essentially decided in the fifth.
Cobb got two quick outs, but then loaded the bases. He got a bad break, as Dustin Ackley's drive that looked to bounce foul was ruled fair. Then Cobb seemed to tire as he approached the 80-pitch mark, walking No. 9 hitter Henry Blanco and Brad Miller. But with the bullpen in action, Cobb responded, getting ahead of rookie of the year candidate Nick Franklin 0-and-2, throwing three balls, and then coming back with his 88th pitch to strike him out.
Cobb's teammates, who were excited to welcome him back, then rewarded him with the win by scoring four runs.
Fuld and Sean Rodriguez, two-thirds of an unusual starting outfield along with Jason Bourgeois, got things started with singles. Myers lashed a double to left that scored them both. Then Longoria, looking more and more like he is out of his extended slump, crushed the next pitch to left to make it 5-1.
The Rays tacked on from there. They got a run in the seventh when Myers was hit by a pitch, went to second on Longoria's single and scored on a one-out single by Yunel Escobar. And they got another in the eighth when Jose Lobaton singled and came around to score on a two-out double by Myers.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.