ST. PETERSBURG — Jake McGee was pitching in the seventh inning Friday night when Alex Cobb left Tropicana Field and drove home for a good night’s sleep ahead of his Saturday afternoon start against the Baltimore Orioles.
Cobb didn’t know the game lasted 18 innings or that the Rays had won until he woke up Saturday morning, looked for the score online and saw Jeremy Hellickson’s head shot with the words “winning pitcher.”
“Couldn’t figure that one out,” Cobb said.
What Cobb did figure out was he needed to pitch as long as he could Saturday to help a bullpen that was used often during Friday’s marathon.
“I definitely felt a little bit of pressure to go deep,” Cobb said. “I was fine with that being asked of me. I would rather that be the case sometimes.”
Cobb met the challenge, falling two outs shy of a complete game as the Rays beat the Orioles 5-1 in front of 23,835 at the Trop.
Desmond Jennings matched his career-high with four RBIs — three on his career-high 14th home run of the season — as the Rays won for the seventh time in the past 10 games and maintained their lead in the AL wild-card standings.
“There’s no question we needed it,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Cobb’s outing. “It definitely rights things for a bit.”
The Rays have won back-to-back games for the first time since winning three straight from Sept. 12-14. It was a pair of gritty wins for a team looking to string together some victories heading into the final eight games of the season.
“The goal right now is to start streaking and start putting together win after win after win,” Cobb said. “We want to win every game for the rest of the year up until the World Series. That’s the mindset. I don’t think that anybody needs any motivation to do that.”
As taxing as Friday’s 6-hour, 54-minute game was for the players on both sides, they had to return to the Trop for a 1:05 p.m. start. That made for a lot of tired bodies running around the field, and that made Cobb and Baltimore starter Miguel Gonzalez the two most important players in the game.
“(Saturday) was going to be about the starting pitchers,” Maddon said. “Their guy was good, also, and Dez finally puts one over the wall and changes the entire complexion of the game.”
Jennings’s home run came in the fifth inning and was the Rays’ second hit of the game.
Cobb, meanwhile, overcame two first-inning walks and took a no-hitter into the fifth. He allowed a run on five hits and struck out 12 in 8ß innings.
“He was unbelievable,” Jennings said. “I could kind of see around the third or fourth inning where the game was going with him. He was throwing all of his pitches for strikes whenever he wanted to, and you could see his confidence is through the roof. He goes out and I feel like he does that every five days.”
Jennings has been in the middle of every big moment during the Rays’ past three wins. He delivered a 12th inning walk-off single to beat the Texas Rangers on Wednesday, scored the winning run in the 18th inning early Saturday and drove in four of the Rays’ five runs Saturday afternoon, the last coming on a seventh-inning triple.
“I was in the middle of every big loss for a while, you know, so it feels good to be on the other side, and it’s good for our team,” Jennings said. “We’re winning games now, so that’s good.”
Given the way the rest of the rotation has pitched of late, Cobb was the right man to have on the mound Saturday. He pitched into the ninth inning for the third time this season, earned his 10th win of the year and improved to 7-0 with a 2.81 ERA in 13 home starts. He’s now 3-0 with a 1.73 ERA in four career starts against the Orioles.
“This guy had a pretty terrible moment this year and he’s doing this?” Maddon said about the concussion Cobb suffered in mid-June. “That’s pretty impressive.”