ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Joe Maddon, the manager of baseball’s hottest team entering Friday, had a simple explanation for what the Tampa Bay Rays encountered in their latest test. Sometimes, credit goes to the opposition for a stellar night. On occasion, there is no black-and-white reason for a loss, only a tip of the cap required for the effort across the way.
A 2-1 defeat to the Houston Astros at Tropicana Field, which snapped a season-high eight-game winning streak, was such an occasion for Tampa Bay. Jarred Cosart, 23, will remember the moment for some time.
The Astros right-hander, whose recall from Triple-A Oklahoma City became effective Friday before his major-league debut, was a mystery to the Rays. But to Tampa Bay and others he faces in future starts, he will be an unknown no longer.
“You give credit,” Maddon said. “We did fine. We just got outpitched tonight. It’s not to denigrate any of our guys but to say that kid pitched a really good game tonight, and you’ve got to give him some credit.”
How about this for a debut? Cosart, who was sent back to Triple-A after the game, gave up no runs and two hits in eight innings, and he threw 55 strikes on 96 pitches. He held a no-hitter through 6 1/3 innings, until Ben Zobrist broke up the bid with a single to right field. Desmond Jennings was the lone Rays runner to reach scoring position, when he walked and stole second base with one out in the fourth.
Yes, it was some night for the native of League City, Texas, who admitted afterward he was so nervous before the game that he was “all over the place in the bullpen” and that his “heart was going a million miles an hour.” A 38th-round selection by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2008 MLB draft, Cosart came to the Astros in July 2011 in a five-player trade that sent outfielder Hunter Pence to the Phillies.
On Thursday night, Cosart had trouble sleeping. As he fought his adrenaline, he scanned the Rays’ website and saw the glowing content: The Rays were streaking, and left-hander David Price was scheduled to pitch next, against him, an assumed mismatch.
“As a natural instinct, you’re like, ‘OK, they’re good,’ ” Cosart said. “I know how good of a team they are.”
On Friday, however, he was better. Cosart’s night can be best summed this way: Price threw an 87-pitch, 70-strike complete game that received a standing ovation as he walked off the field … and he still lost.
“It was a tremendous start by that guy,” Price said. “Sometimes, you’ve just got to tip your cap as a hitter and as a pitcher. I got out-pitched tonight.”
More to the point, Rays’ hitters were out-foxed. Maddon said he noticed Cosart’s fastball showed some cut, and left-handed hitters in particular struggled with pitches that faded down and away. Of Cosart’s offerings, 60 were cutters, 19 curveballs, 12 fastballs and five changeups.
Meanwhile, Rays designated hitter Luke Scott explained the searching feeling in a more succinct way.
“When you look up in the seventh inning and there’s no hits on the board and it’s like, ‘Hey man, this guy is definitely having a special night. No doubt about it,’ ” said Scott, who went 1 for 4. “It’s not because we were off tonight — it was because he was good. The kid was good.”
Cosart was better than good. He became memorable.
In the process, Cosart flirted with history. Until Zobrist’s hit, he threatened to join former Cincinnati Reds right-hander Bumpus Jones, then age 22 in 1892, as a pitcher to throw a no-hitter in his major-league debut. Cosart became the first pitcher to go eight or more scoreless innings in his majors’ debut since Detroit Tigers left-hander Andy Van Hekken went nine on Sept. 3, 2002.
“The kid tonight — he had good stuff, threw hard, and actually, he had a reputation of walking people,” Maddon said. “He wasn’t doing that tonight. He was on the plate, and his ball was cutting a lot, and I think it presented differently to our hitters. They’ve never seen him before, and then he started dropping in some hooks, too. So he pitched an outstanding game.”
Cosart’s game was outstanding enough to be remembered for a while, even if it fell short of perfection.