ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Alex Cobb’s night was historic and a little odd, too.
The Tampa Bay Rays’ right-hander became the first pitcher in major league history — reliever or starter — to strike out 13 batters in an appearance lasting fewer than five innings. He did so in 4 2/3 during the Rays’ 6-3 victory over the San Diego Padres on Friday at Tropicana Field.
“I don’t know if that’s a good thing,” said Cobb, who stands at 4-2 with a 3.09 ERA in seven starts after the no-decision. “You kind of want to go five innings every time out. But it’s cool to have that after an outing that you’re not too pleased with walking away, and you shine a light of a little positive on it.
“I think I threw a lot of strikes. I wasn’t over there nibbling, throwing the ball out of the zone too much trying to make them chase.”
That wasn’t the only oddity of Cobb’s start. In the top of the third inning, Cobb struck out four Padres — Will Venable, Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin and Yonder Alonso — but Venable reached first base on a wild pitch on strike three. Venable would steal second and third before scoring on a balk during Alonso’s at-bat.
In the top of the fifth with the Padres leading 3-2, Cobb fanned Headley and Quentin for his 12th and 13th strikeouts of the night, but walked Alonso on his 117th pitch. That was enough as Rays skipper Joe Maddon went to the bullpen and called on Josh Lueke.
Lueke, recalled as a result of reliever Brandon Gomes being placed on the 15-day disabled list Friday, pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Reliever Jake McGee (1-2) followed and earned the victory thanks to Tampa Bay’s four-run seventh, and closer Fernando Rodney gained his fifth save.
But back to Cobb, who threw 77 strikes out of his 117 pitches, while yielding three earned runs on five hits — two homers — and two walks.
“A lot of (Cobb’s pitch count) was a lot of foul balls on their part,” Maddon said. “They really built up his pitch count. He wasn’t wild at all. … The changeup was sinking a lot. The fastball was good. … But 117 (pitches) after four and two-third — he walks the last hitter — I just could not permit it and feel good about myself at that point.”
Cobb’s early exit marked an interesting streak’s end. Before Friday, Rays starting pitchers had worked at least five innings in all 34 games this season. It’s the second-longest run to open a campaign since records have been available, starting in 1916. Only the 1981 Pittsburgh Pirates, with 45, had a longer streak.
Still, Cobb showed early that his night would be special, if not somewhat strange. He had nine strikeouts over his first three innings, marking the first time in Rays history that a pitcher had as many strikeouts through his first three innings of work.
“I’m going to make the call and say that his stuff was too good,” said Rays second baseman Ryan Roberts, who hit a go-ahead two-run single in the seventh. “His stuff was moving so much that they just kept (hitting) foul ball, foul ball, foul ball … and his pitch count got up.