ST. PETERSBURG — With the wild-card standings as they are, RHP Alex Cobb finds himself pitching in a big game this afternoon when he faces the Orioles at Tropicana Field.
But Cobb said that isn’t anything new.
“I feel like I’ve been pitching my biggest game since I came back (from the disabled list),” Cobb said. “It’s been that type of race since mid-August. Every game has been back and forth swapping spots in the standings. There’s no different outlook. I know how to deal with big games. It’s not going to have any different outcome on my performance.”
Cobb, 3-1 with a 3.05 ERA in his seven starts since he returned from a concussion, knows what it’s like to pitch and win a must-win game against the Orioles. He did that last Oct. 1 when the Rays were three games out of the last wild-card spot with three games to play. A loss and they were eliminated.
Cobb threw seven innings of two-hit ball and allowed a run as the Rays beat the O’s 5-3.
“I was driving home and checking the Oakland score,” Cobb said. “They (won and) wound up knocking us out of contention. That was the biggest game of my career at that point because if we lost, we were done. These are the games you want to pitch in.”
Manager Joe Maddon refuses to publicly acknowledge how big each of the remaining games are, but Cobb embraces the moment.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing to not treat it like another start,” he said. “Obviously, it is a little more pressure-filled and intense, meaningful. I don’t think that’s a bad thing if you can harness it in the right way and control your emotions, turn it into a positive for you.
“I’m obviously going to have a little more adrenaline going and each pitch is going to mean a little more. If you can turn that into a thought process and center in on every pitch, it can turn into a positive for you.”
Longoria named MVP
The Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted 3B Evan Longoria team MVP, RF Wil Myers rookie of the year and 2B Ben Zobrist the Paul C. Smith Champion Award as the player who exemplifies the spirit of true professionalism on and off the field.
“It was a huge honor,” Longoria said. “It’s ironic for me. In the six years I’ve been here, this has been my most inconsistent. This year has been a little personally disappointing for myself but I guess it speaks to the fact that I’ve been healthy and the impact that has on the rest of the team.”
Zobrist’s award is named after former Tribune sports editor Paul C. Smith.
“It’s an honor,” Zobrist said. “It’s not something you set out to win at the beginning of the year but at the same time, that’s something you hope you can live up to. Being considered one of the good guys is something you want to do your best to represent well.”
Maddon said RHP Jesse Crain (right shoulder strain) felt well Friday after throwing 20 pitches Thursday during an Instructional League game. He could be activated from the disabled list today.
Welcome back, Dan
Dan Johnson, now a reserve for the Orioles, returned to the Trop on Friday as an active player for the first time since the final game of the 2011 season.
It was Johnson’s two-out, ninth-inning, pinch-hit home run that brought the Rays all the way back from a 7-0 deficit against the Yankees and set up Longoria’s game-winning and wild card-clinching home run.
“The things that happened, you couldn’t even make a movie out of it. You couldn’t make this stuff up,” Johnson said. “When I step back from it, being a baseball fan, even though it was me, I still can’t believe it actually happened. Geez, Louise. Front row seat, ball stayed fair, it’s crazy. I could hit that ball 999 times out of 1,000 times and it would hook foul. The stars were definitely aligned.”
INF Tim Beckham was the 39th player used this season by the Rays. According to Stats Inc., that ties the Reds and Tigers as the fewest players used by a team this season. ... ESPN the Magazine’s annual “Ultimate Standings” has the Rays ranked the highest of the nine pro teams in Florida and fourth among the 30 MLB teams based on title track, ownership, coaching, players, ran relations, affordability, stadium experience and bang for the buck.