DETROIT — Things were going so well for Rays right-hander Alex Cobb on Wednesday night that when he came off the field after the sixth inning, he thought it was the fifth.
"I saw it on the scoreboard, and I thought the scoreboard was wrong," Cobb said. "I asked (Matt Moore), and he said, 'Yeah, that was the sixth. You're cruising, keep going.' "
Cobb did just that, pitching 7⅔ shutout innings in a dazzling performance to lift the Rays to a 3-0 win over the Tigers at Comerica Park. He struck out seven and scattered five hits, baffling one of the majors' most potent offenses before Tampa Bay rallied for three runs in the ninth.
"It felt like Bugs Bunny was pitching," Tigers rightfielder Torii Hunter said. "When you swing, the ball just drops out of the zone. It's like it didn't want to get hit."
Said Tigers manager Jim Leyland: "He was terrific."
Manager Joe Maddon had been concerned about Cobb's nine-day layoff between starts, having been pushed back due to a cut on his right middle finger. But Cobb knew that if he could gather himself and stay in control, he'd have a good night as his arm was fresh, as the "layoff definitely helped."
"He was outstanding," Maddon said. "They're such good hitters, that to have bad swings against them like that tells you how good his stuff was."
Though the Rays (32-26) had a tough time against Tigers right-hander Doug Fister, Maddon said the game could have "really taken a different turn" had a third-inning rally not ended in an unusual 3-2 double play. With runners on first and third and one out, first baseman Prince Fielder made a nice play on Sam Fuld's hard grounder, throwing home to catch Jose Lobaton coming from third in a rundown. Tigers catcher Alex Avila tagged Lobaton and then Yunel Escobar, who had tried to advance to third from first.
"Neither one had a really good moment right there," Maddon said.
Cobb's only mistake might have come in the eighth, when he made a poor decision — and even worse, an off-balance throw — trying to field a swinging bunt toward third by Andy Dirks, allowing him to advance to second.
Cobb said he didn't know what he was thinking.
"That was not even being overzealous, that's overdelusional," Maddon quipped. "I think he was going for the gold (glove) right there, and he ended up with the bronze, or came up with nickel or tin."
Cobb got Hunter to fly out for the second out, and after he intentionally walked reigning MVP Miguel Cabrera for the second time, Maddon replaced him with veteran Joel Peralta. Cobb was at 108 pitches and had struck out Fielder twice, but he said he understood the move, and Peralta struck out Fielder again.
The Rays scored three in the ninth, sparked by Fuld, who found out two hours before game time he was going to play for Kelly Johnson (back tightness). Fuld dropped a bunt single down the first-base line, his headfirst slide barely beating Fielder's tag. Ben Zobrist moved him to third on a single, and Fuld scored on Matt Joyce's sacrifice fly.
Evan Longoria had an RBI single and Desmond Jennings an RBI triple to cap it off, but it was Cobb who stole the show. He has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 10 of his 11 starts, with Maddon saying he has had better command, and gone deeper, than eight-game winner Moore.
"Awesome," Fuld said. "He's in a groove, it's fun to watch."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.