ST. PETERSBURG — Alex Cobb had too much on his mind Thursday to worry about what everyone else at Tropicana Field was thinking.
Returning from a concussion and vertigo suffered when he was struck on the right side of his head by a line drive exactly two months earlier had people wondering: What would happen when he faced a major-league hitter? What would happen when a ball was smacked back his way?
What would happen when pitching again after such a long layoff?
Turns out, Cobb was just fine.
The right-hander allowed a run on three hits in five innings and helped pitch the Rays to a 7-1 victory against the Mariners in front of 13,299.
It was the Rays’ second straight victory and it enabled them to trim another game off Boston’s lead in the American League East. Tampa Bay is two games back.
“Everything felt good,” Cobb said. “Once I stepped out there and got back with a batter in the box, it felt really like a normal game.”
That’s all Cobb wants now — normalcy.
He wants to be known as Alex Cobb, a member of the Rays’ rotation, rather than Alex Cobb, the pitcher who was felled by a line drive June 15 off the bat of Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer.
He wants to be Alex Cobb, the pitcher who is helping the Rays try to chase down the Red Sox and try to secure another trip to the postseason, rather than Alex Cobb, the pitcher who was carted off the field on a stretcher.
“I just want it to be back to normal,” he said. “I want to stop talking about it. I want to stop getting attention for anything other than what’s going on on the field. I think we can do that now that this game is past us.”
Cobb allowed a second-inning home run to Raul Ibanez and pitched out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the fifth when he struck out Nick Franklin.
The jam was his own doing. He allowed a two-out double, then walked the next two batters. With a pitch limit of 90, Cobb was facing his last batter in Franklin.
“The game was kind of eeking away,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
But Cobb responded. He got Franklin swinging at his 88th pitch of the night.
That enabled Cobb to get the win, because the Rays erupted for four runs in the bottom of the inning.
Wil Myers, who matched his career high with four RBIs, doubled home Sam Fuld and Sean Rodriguez. Evan Longoria followed with a two-run homer to give the Rays a 5-1 lead.
Myers, who tied the score at 1 in the third when he singled home Fuld, was hit by a pitch in the seventh and scored on a single by Yunel Escobar. He then doubled home Jose Lobaton in the eighth to complete the scoring.
The three hits also matched a season high for Myers and was a nice bounce-back from the 0-for-15 slump he snapped Wednesday with a home run.
“I feel better,” Myers said. “I still don’t feel like I did three weeks ago during that road trip after the All-Star break, but I feel myself coming back a little bit. It’s crazy how you can be feeling so good to bad in one game. I feel myself coming back. It felt good at the plate to hit some tough pitches.”
The story of the day belonged to Cobb, who improved to 7-2 and erased any doubts anyone could have had before he returned to the mound.
Even Maddon admitted he was curious to see how Cobb would respond.
“Having been out for a bit, I didn’t know how settled he would be,” Maddon said. “I felt confident that he would be healthy and fine and all that stuff. I really wasn’t concerned about him flinching. I was more concerned with command and him being in control with his emotions, and he was.”
Cobb said he’s looking forward to his first normal week since the week before he was hurt. A bullpen session is next, followed by a start Tuesday against the Orioles in Baltimore.
He said he was touched by the ovation he received when he went out to stretch before the game, as well as all the good wishes extended his way by the fans.
But the best part of the day, besides striking out Franklin?
“Winning,” he said. “And Boston losing and getting back to within two.”