ST. PETERSBURG — Rays manager Joe Maddon predicted RHP Alex Cobb would pitch well Monday in a must-win situation, jokingly basing that on his Dirty Dancing-like leap into RHP Dane De La Rosa's arms in a choreographed rookie skit last week in Boston.
"Dancing With the Stars is next with him and De La Rosa," Maddon quipped.
But Cobb one-upped his dancing with a dazzling performance on the mound in a 5-3 win over the Orioles, allowing one run over seven innings and striking out seven.
"Alex Cobb was magnificent," Maddon said. "Tempo, stuff, strike-throwing, confidence, composure — everything was going on tonight."
Cobb wasn't so sure after a "horrible" pregame bullpen session but said his adrenaline kicked in once he took the mound, throwing 21 of his first 23 pitches for strikes and carrying a no-hitter into the fourth.
"I was able to get in the zone a little bit and throw the fastball to both sides of the plate and work with my off-speed," Cobb said.
Cobb improved to 7-1 with a 3.09 ERA over his past 11 starts, including 3-1 with a 2.73 ERA since the start of September.
RECORD RODNEY: With RHP Fernando Rodney's scoreless ninth and 47th save, his season ERA of 0.61 (technically 0.6053) moved percentage points lower than Dennis Eckersley's 0.61 (0.6136) ERA in 1990, best all time by a relief pitcher (minimum 50 innings).
"I'm having a good season, and doing a very good job, and that happens," Rodney said. "I think the record … everything has to be broken someday. And I think I have a chance this year. We'll see. If I do it, it's going to be great."
STRONG SHIELDS: RHP James Shields heads into his last start of the regular season tonight with a chance to match his career high in wins (16), set in last year's All-Star campaign.
"I definitely want to try to get the 16th win," Shields said. "I feel like during this season, I had a pretty bad eight-game stretch there, so I might have been right up there with (LHP David Price) at 20 (wins). But I'm happy with my season, I'm happy the way I finished strong."
Shields hopes it's not his last start in a Rays uniform; the club holds a $9 million option for next season.
NO DOUBT: Though there appeared to be confusion whether Orioles RF Chris Davis' ninth-inning homer hit off the C-ring catwalk, Maddon said he didn't argue because home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez was "absolutely positive he saw that."
LINING UP: Maddon said that if today's and Wednesday's games don't matter, he would talk to 3B Evan Longoria to see if he wants to play, and the same with C Jose Molina.
WITH HONORS: The Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America will announce the Rays 2012 team awards today at the Clutch Hitters banquet then present them on the field before the game: Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year and Paul C. Smith Champion award.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]