ST. PETERSBURG — Alex Cobb isn't ready to look ahead to the past just yet.
Despite what he said to the cameras, Cobb was well aware that Saturday's start against the Red Sox most likely would be his last at the Trop in a Rays uniform.
With two weeks still to play before the end of his final season before becoming a free agent and heading off for a big payday elsewhere, Cobb maintained it was too soon to start thinking of goodbyes.
But with his last two starts lined up for games in Baltimore and New York before the Rays come home to finish up against the Orioles, Cobb's outing in Saturday's 3-1 loss to the Red Sox certainly had the look of a farewell performance. And a frustrating one at that.
"If it is, man, it would be sad," Cobb said going in. "There's been a lot of memories in this building and through this organization. I don't really want to think about it yet. There is too much season left to go down that road yet. But it would be a tough thought if that's it."
Cobb made his first major-league start at the Trop back in May 2011, and if Saturday's 58th under the tilted roof was his last, he went out in typical style, grinding to keep the Rays in the game despite another night of quiet bats and flashing his fiery competitiveness.
Cobb's night ended in the sixth, as much from the two hits he allowed as two calls by home plate umpire Jeff Nelson, which Cobb strode toward the plate to dispute. He was flabbergasted by a balk call that sent Andrew Benintendi to second (and apparently was still stunned as he swiped third), then frustrated that strike three to Mookie Betts was called ball three, with Betts taking advantage by slapping the next pitch for an RBI single and later scoring.
As Cobb (11-10, 3.63) walked, steamed, off the mound, he wasn't thinking much about all the memories, wasn't tipping his cap to a big ovation.
"It was, 'Cool, so this is how it ends,' " he said, sarcasm dripping. "Great."
Cobb has known nothing but the Rays way since joining the organization in 2006 as a fourth-round pick from Vero Beach High. Over 12 years he has evolved, despite a series of injuries, into a good leader and a great example.
"I think we've come to expect a lot from him, and deservedly so," longtime teammate Evan Longoria said. "In the time he's been healthy and out there, he's pitched like an ace for us. He has that mentality, too. He's a bulldog on the mound. I'm sure you've heard that from other people. He's as fierce a competitor on his start day as anybody I've ever been around. It's always nice to play behind guys like that."
Cobb, 29, has tried not to live with regrets, but it's only natural to wonder what his record — 47-35, 3.49 in 114 starts — would look like otherwise.
If he hadn't missed the last seven weeks of his 2011 rookie season due to surgery to remove a blood clot and part of his top right rib. Two months in 2013 after being hit in the head by a line drive and sustaining a concussion. And, most dramatically, all of 2015 and most of 2016 because of Tommy John elbow surgery. (That elbow injury occurred in March 2015 and quashed talks he had been having on a multiyear deal that could have been worth around $50 million.)
"He's had a real successful career, it's just extremely unfortunate that he missed the time that he did miss," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "And it's extremely impressive how he came back from each one of those injuries, all three of which could have been career-enders.
"Just a great example of his grit and determination, the things we are always talking about when we're talking about Alex Cobb. Not to mention the fact that he has those things and he actually performs."
Cobb also earns raves as a good teammate, whether it's teaching Jake Odorizzi his split-finger changeup a couple of springs ago or preaching to the young pitchers about the pressures of September games. "One of the best teammates you could ever ask for," Odorizzi said.
Chase Whitley, Cobb's closest friend among the Rays, couldn't agree more. The two talk, laugh and tease over just about anything, including during a late-night Waffle House dinner Wednesday when they got back from New York. The chatter has included Cobb's future, and Whitley said he handled Saturday's likely farewell with the same grace and professionalism he does everything else.
"We've been joking about that stuff pretty much the whole season," Whitley said, "that at any point it could be his last start."
Only now, the end really is in sight.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.