Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 6/17/12
ST. PETERSBURG So much was working against the Tampa Bay Rays heading into Sunday's rubber match against the Miami Marlins. The biggest thing going, it seemed, was the large "Popa-Palooza" Father's Day crowd and triple-concert bill at the Trop slated for after the game. Yet there didn't appear to be much pop anywhere else for the Rays. They had just suffered a disappointing loss to Miami that stretched 15 innings, taxing the bullpen and sending players home tired and drained in the wee hours Sunday morning. Their lineup was missing slugger Matt Joyce, who fell ill Sunday morning with flu-like symptoms. Starting leftfielder and leadoff man Desmond Jennings was getting a much-needed rest. And the designated hitter in the improvised lineup that manager Joe Maddon posted in the clubhouse? Elliot Johnson. Enough said. Considering they were going up against Marlins ace Josh Johnson, things didn't exactly look promising for the Rays as they set out to avoid a costly series loss to their intrastate rival on the verge of a road series starting Tuesday in Washington. Enter Alex Cobb, who wasn't feeling so hot either after a terrible bullpen session. But in his sixth start of the season since getting recalled from Durham, the second-year Rays righthander stepped up in a big way to pave the way for a crucial 3-0 victory on before a gathering of 33,810. Cobb started strong, getting Hanley Ramirez on a called third strike, and never wavered. He went seven innings, blanking the Marlins on two hits with 10 strikeouts and one walk precisely the kind of performance Tampa Bay needed to erase any lingering pain of their marathon loss. Not only did Cobb end his three-game losing streak, he matched his career high for innings pitched and set a new one in strikeouts. In the process, he became only the fifth Rays pitcher to log 10 or more Ks and allow two or fewer hits in a start (joining Scott Kazmir in 2006, James Shields 2007, Matt Garza in 2009 and Jeff Niemann in 2011). "I felt great," Cobb said. "When I first started throwing my bullpen, I felt horrible. I thought it was going to be a short night. Sometimes that's when you throw the best because that's when you are focusing on every pitch. It turned out to be good today." What also felt good for Cobb was pitching on Father's Day with his dad, Rick, looking on proudly in the stands. "That was really cool," Cobb said. "During the game, I wasn't thinking about it too much I was reflecting on it more before the game and after the game. It brings up a lot of good memories and, when you look at it in perspective, it's probably something really cool for him to watch me on that stage and on this day. It was really rewarding." Cobb's effort capped a rewarding series for Rays pitchers as well. They allowed only four runs in the three-game series including just one earned run for a spectacular ERA of 0.27. It was also the sixth shutout for the Rays this season, including their second combined one in the last three days. "(Cobb had) great fastball command but today was the uncanny ability (to throw a) first-pitch curveball strike," said Maddon. "It was really good. You put that in the hitter's head and combine that with the great change-up, with the fastball where he wants it. And that last inning he pitched he had 92 (mph) for the first time, so he kept getting better." Maddon decided to pull Cobb, however, after he reached 100 pitches. And he got perfect frames in relief from Joel Peralta in the eighth and Fernando Rodney in the ninth, with each striking out two and Rodney earning his 19th save in 20 opportunities this season. If you're keeping track, Rodney has allowed only one earned run at home this season, good for an 0.49 ERA. "A hundred pitches is has kind of been (Cobb's) Waterloo," Maddon said. "Let's get him out after seven. But he was really, really good." After Cobb set the tone with a dominant first inning, centerfielder B.J. Upton did the same for the offense. Batting at the top of the order for the first time this season, he swatted a lead-off homer in the bottom of the first the sixth of his career and fifth homer of the season. "I didn't even look at (the lineup)," Upton said. "I just knew I was leading off. I looked up, saw that I was leading off and said alright. That's just Joe, man. We know he's going to shuffle the lineup and, in reality, you are only hitting in that spot at the beginning of the game so it really doesn't matter. We have a good ball club. Everyone here will tell you that it doesn't matter where you are hitting, they are going to keep the same approach." The Rays wasted several scoring chances in the early going against Cobb, but padded their lead in the sixth when Johnson walked and stole second, then scored on a single to center by third baseman Drew Sutton. And in the seventh, right fielder Ben Zobrist picked up his second hit of the game the seventh time in eight games he's collected multiple hits. His single to left scored Upton, who had reached first and advanced to second on a fielding error by Gabby Sanchez. That was more than the Rays would need on this day to improve to 14-3 on "get-away days" including winning straight final games of a home stand or road series. The win improved their record to 37-29, still third in the AL East behind the streaking first-place Yankees 40-25 and two games behind the second-place Orioles (39-27). Now they prepare to visit two NL East teams who just suffered sweeps the first-place Nationals (38-26) at the hands of the Yankees, and the last-place Phillies (31-37) courtesy of the Blue Jays. The Rays came into the game Sunday having experienced a full range of emotions in the first two games of the series. In the opener Friday night, they awoke from the stupor that marked their three straight losses to the Mets. The team that couldn't seem to hit or pitch during the sweep suddenly did both in droves. Their 11-0 win featured more runs than the combined nine they scored against New York, which had outscored them 22-9 all told. Believe it or not, Tampa Bay had gone 133 home games without scoring 10 runs or more the longest such streak in the majors since the Houston Astros went 268 games between 1980-84 (and the last time an AL team went that long was Toronto's 165-game stretch all the back to 1980-82). But what really made a difference was the pitching, with rookie Matt Moore allowed only one hit through seven innings in his best outing of the season and the bullpen allowed no hits or runs to close out the much-needed win. It was the first tie a Rays' starter held an opposing team to one-hit or less since Matt Garza no-hit the Tigers July 26, 2010. After a shaking start to the season, Moore won his third straight decision to improve to 4-5 with a 4.16 ERA. The revived offense was paced by Zobrist's hot bat. Barely a week after his batting average stood at .199 at Yankee Stadium, he continued his one-man wrecking-crew assault against the Marlins with his fifth straight multiple-hit game including his ninth homer of the year. That raised his batting average to .235 with a six-game hitting streak (12-for-22 with eight RBI and six walks) including a 9-for-14 outburst with three homers and six RBI against Miami. The befuddled Marlins, meanwhile, dropped their fourth game in as many 2012 outings against Tampa Bay and their ninth in 10 games overall. But then came Saturday night's 15-inning marathon and the disheartening 4-3 loss to Miami. Once again, the Rays fell victim to the uncharacteristic poor defense, with three errors that led to three Marlins runs undercutting James Shields' bid for his eighth win. He departed with the game tied 3-3 after 7.2 innings, having yielded eight hits while fanning five and walking one. He pitched well enough to win, and the Rays battled back to tie the game after falling behind 3-0 after two innings. But it was a game Tampa Bay could have won well before extra innings if not for a defense that committed its 55th, 56th and 57th errors of the season in 65 games including its 16th multi-error showing. A year ago at this point, the Rays had committed only 31 errors with three multi-error games. Another point of reference: They didn't commit their 57th error in 2011 until their 128th game on Aug. 24. Sean Rodriguez made up for his throwing error with a seventh-inning triple that tied the score 3-all. And the Rays' bullpen did an admirable job in relief of Shields, throwing 6.2 scoreless innings thanks to good work by Peralta, Rodney, Jake McGee, Wade Davis and Burke Badenhop. Newly recalled Brandon Gomes retired the Marlins in the 14th with no trouble. But Gomes gave up a one-out double in the 15th to former Rays outfielder Justin Ruggiano. And one batter later, he was burned for what turned out to be the game-winner a triple by Scott Cousins, who celebrated his call-up from New Orleans with three hits in the game. That snapped Tampa Bay's eight-game win streak over the Marlins and substantially raised the stakes for Sunday's showdown. But the Rays came into the game relaxed and had no trouble shaking off the effects of the late-night loss. "Just watch our guys," Maddon said. "Cobber comes out with a really good first inning. And then B.J. steps up, homer. We had a really good energy about us today, under the circumstances. I felt it was going to be a really good game all along. And Alex really permitted that to happen." NOTES: Gomes was optioned back to Triple-A Durham following Sunday's win. Maddon praised the work Gomes did during his brief trip back to the Rays. "(He's) throwing ball really well," Maddon said. "This is a baseball moment based on need right now." The Rays need a position player as they prepare for more inter-league play and will announce a corresponding move by Tuesday. Maddon, however, stressed that neither Evan Longoria nor Jeff Keppinger were ready yet to be recalled from their rehab assignments with Durham.
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