Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 8/24/12
Now its really getting interesting, folks. Forget the Wild Card race. The American League East standings suddenly tell the story of battle for the division title between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays. Whod have imagined that? Well, maybe ever-optimistic Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, who always keeps his team believing in the possibilities, too. Five weeks ago, the Rays had fallen to fourth place in the division, 10.5 games behind New York. Today, only 2.5 games separate the first-place Yanks and second-place Rays following Alex Cobbs first career shutout Thursday night: a 5-0 victory over the visiting Oakland As and yet another dominant pitching performance by baseballs best staff. Its been quite a month. In fact, in the last 36 days, theyve made up eight games on New York, going 23-10 since July 19 to pull within striking distance of the East lead. As the Yankees began to stumble with injuries losing such lynchpins as ace CC Sabathia and third baseman Alex Rodriguez to the disabled list Tampa Bay gradually began to get healthy for the first time all season. And fueled by their off-the-charts pitching, along with a recently revived offense keyed by the return of players like Evan Longoria and Sam Fuld, the Rays are making a head-turning charge reminiscent of their surge to the postseason last September. Thursdays win carried extra significance in that it knocked back Oakland in the Wild Card derby, pushing the As 2.5 games behind them and into a three-way tie with Baltimore and Detroit at 67-57. The Rays, meanwhile, improved to a season-best 15 games over .500 at 70-55 with their 14th win in the past 17 games. The Yankees, who didnt play Thursday, stand at 72-52. We realize we have a couple more games against (the As), outfielder Matt Joyce said. We cant ever let up on a team like that. A win is a win, and we will always take a W, especially against a team that you are battling against for the Wild Card, but at the same time we have are sights set a little higher. We want to catch the Yankees. We still have a lot of baseball to be played, but I think we are playing well now and we just need to keep going. The Rays have certainly kept it going in August a major-league best 16-5 in this month and 7-1 since being on the wrong end of a perfect game thrown by Felix Hernandez on Aug. 15. And theyll try to stay on track Friday at 7:10 p.m., when rookie southpaw Matt Moore (10-7 with a 3.57) faces righthander Jarrod Parker (8-7, 3.48). After a 1-5 start this season, Moore has gone 9-2 in his last 11 decisions and played a big role in Tampa Bays overwhelming pitching success this season. They lead the American League with a 3.24 ERA (trailing only the Washington Nationals by 0.01). Heres something to ponder about that: The last four AL teams to finish a season with an ERA that low all wound up in the World Series (the As in 1990 at 3.18, the 1989 As at 3,09, 1981 Yankees at 2.90 and 1978 Yankees at 3.18). The latest man of the hour, of course, was Cobb. When we last saw him, the 24-year-old right-hander was getting shelled in Anaheim by the Angels, knocked out of the game after 2.2 innings with 12 hits and an eight-run deficit. The Rays staged a stunning comeback to win that game 10-8 in one of the key moments of their recent surge. And Thursday night at the Trop, it was Cobbs turn to do the same. Exhibiting superb command of his fastball from the start, hitting the corners consistently and mixing in a mean curve, Cobb pitched the first shutout of his career, a four-hitter that kept the As off-balance all night. Just shut down tonight, Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. We just couldnt figure him out tonight. He was throwing chase-fastballs to us. Every time we were looking for a fastball, he threw a breaking ball, and every time we were looking for a breaking ball he threw a fastball, so he was pretty unpredictable tonight. Maddon, known for pulling pitchers late even with a shutout in the making, wanted to let Cobb go the distance for positive reinforcement. Even when he walked the first batter in the ninth, and glanced toward Maddon in the dugout, Cobb stayed on the mound. He got a well-timed double-play to erase the walk and struck out cleanup hitter Yoenis Cespedes looking to end it. Ive always believed that when you get a young pitcher that can go nine, and throw a complete game, and then furthermore make it a shutout, theres something good to be derived from that normally, Maddon said. Especially after coming off the game that he just had, where it was such a difficult game in Anaheim, to flip it and do this. (That makes) four seven-inning appearances in a row for him, prior to the Anaheim outing, and then he does this. Thats good for him to know that he can do something like that. Cobbs smile on the mound in the post-game victory celebration told the story even when Moore inadvertently slammed into him during a body-jumping celebration and sent him sprawling on the mound. Later, Cobb described the shutout as a way of expressing his gratitude. That is a thank you to the team and the bullpen especially, he said. They had to carry me through six-innings (last start). It felt good to give them a break. In truth, the Anaheim debacle was an aberration for him. Hes now pitched seven or more innings in five of his last six starts and allowed one run or less in four of those games, raising his record to 4-0 this month. The Yankees are no doubt feeling the heat now, having been swept in three by the White Sox. But life could be improving. They face the reeling Indians, 54-70 and losers of eight straight, Friday in Cleveland and then play struggling Toronto (58-68 and losers of five in a row). In addition, they regain the services Sabathia today. The former Cleveland hurler spent 15 days on the DL with a sore elbow and is scheduled to pitch tonight against his former team. New York expects to have Rodriguez back from the DL in September. The Rays, meanwhile, will hit the road next week after a rare Sunday off to play three against AL Central-leader Texas and three in Toronto. Theyll return home for a three-game series youll want to circle on the schedule: Rays-Yankees, Sept. 3-5. And depending on how the next 10 days go, thats when things could get interesting indeed.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Report: Smaller-market teams support Pacers in tampering case

Jason Garrett indicates Ezekiel Elliott could play this week

Chuck Pagano: Still no timeline for Andrew Luck’s return

49ers assistant becomes first openly LGBTQ coach in NFL

Ex-Rams coach on Sean McVay hiring: ‘Wait a minute while I puke’

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Jay Cutler admits losing in Chicago wore him down

AFC West preview: Who’s going to stop the Raiders?

Jon Gruden: Manziel’s chances of returning to NFL are ‘slim’

Boldin: NFL offseason programs are for ‘babysitting’ players

Yasiel Puig, Justin Turner team up for hilarious rendition of total eclipse

WATCH: Odell Beckham Jr. leaves game after low hit to his leg

The 'When the Doctor took the Big Apple by storm' quiz

15 college football coaches who are on the hot seat

Getaway Day: The playing field is leveling off as the wild-card chase takes shape

The 'Anquan Boldin calls it a career' quiz

Sports & Politics Intersect: Echoes of Charlottesville ripple across the sports world

BIG3 Playoff Preview: Can anyone stop Trilogy?

Why the SEC is not the best football conference anymore

Box Score 8/18: Reds and Cubs claw through a 23-run game

The 'M! E! S! S! Mess! Mess! Mess!' quiz

Three Up, Three Down: Giancarlo Stanton won't stop hitting homers

NFL shifts blame for Zeke suspension to police and NFLPA

The 'Bye bye to the Beast Incarnate?' quiz

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Yardbarker Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

The 'When the Doctor took the Big Apple by storm' quiz

The 'Anquan Boldin calls it a career' quiz

Getaway Day: The playing field is leveling off as the wild-card chase takes shape

Sports & Politics Intersect: Echoes of Charlottesville ripple across the sports world

BIG3 Playoff Preview: Can anyone stop Trilogy?

The 'Bye bye to the Beast Incarnate?' quiz

Why the SEC is not the best football conference anymore

The 'M! E! S! S! Mess! Mess! Mess!' quiz

Three Up, Three Down: Giancarlo Stanton won't stop hitting homers

NFL shifts blame for Zeke suspension to police and NFLPA

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker