Despite Rays’ loss, Alex Cobb returns to form with sparkling show in duel with Yu Darvish

Alex Cobb threw seven scoreless innings and had six strikeouts against the Rangers on Sunday afternoon.

Kim Klement/Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — All afternoon, Alex Cobb had sick stuff. He never lost control. There he was, tearing through the Texas Rangers lineup, trying to keep in stride with right-hander Yu Darvish, trying to maintain his level one inning after the next, like this was the final stretch of a Triple Crown race between two thoroughbreds in their prime. He pitched with purpose.

Goodness, it was cool.

Baseball can be a funny game, with so many possible outcomes after the first pitch is thrown, from a messy rout to a ho-hum four-run victory to an 18-inning marathon that takes your breath away. You never know what you’ll see.

Sunday, Cobb gave the Tampa Bay Rays his best in a pitching showcase from both sides. Months from now, the sight at Tropicana Field will be forgotten. After all, the Rays lost 3-0, because Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus cracked a 360-foot, two-run home run off reliever Joel Peralta in the eighth inning. Texas added another run in the ninth when Donnie Murphy scored Adrian Beltre with an RBI single to left field off reliever Josh Lueke.

Yes, this will show up as a no-decision when we review Cobb’s year. It will look less appealing than his many victories to follow. Baseball is so long that April gems tend to be swept away to make room for September and October jewels.

Really, how much do you remember from last April?

But this memory is worth keeping alive a little longer.

Rays vs. Rangers

"I’m not really thinking about that too much," Cobb said of his matchup with Darvish. "I’m really just going out there and realizing I can’t give up a run."

Well, mission accomplished. Cobb allowed just three hits and struck out six in seven innings. Darvish matched Cobb’s heat with his own fire, allowing seven hits and striking out six in seven.

These were two of the American League’s best delivering ridiculous bite, before the bullpens decided the outcome, before Peralta and Lueke blinked. It’s too bad Cobb and Darvish couldn’t go the distance.

But this day was good for Cobb. His debut was lackluster by his standards. Last Tuesday, he allowed four runs and five hits in five innings in a loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. He said he was timid. He never looked like himself.

Everything was back Sunday. His movement had life. His mixture of pitches was solid. He allowed one runner to reach second base. He looked like the same Cobb who delivered a career-best 2.76 ERA last season. He looked like someone who will be a bull on the mound throughout the summer.

Notebook

"You try not to get caught up in what’s going on outside of what you can control," Cobb said. "Maybe there’s a guy with a 5.00 ERA out there, you’re not going to go out there and say, ‘Well, I’ve got two or three runs I can give up and be OK.’ That’s never your outlook."

"I’m sure Cobber, knowing how competitive he is, he wanted to beat him today," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Darvish. "I know he wanted to outpitch him."

"As usual, you have a team over there that fights forever, and they put themselves in some good positions to score some runs," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "But Yu made the pitches when he had to."

Of course, Cobb denied extra attention was given to this matchup. The reaction was similar to what Rays left-hander David Price said about facing Blue Jays right-hander R.A. Dickey last year, when the two were reigning Cy Young Award winners. It’s rare someone will come out and say, "I want to beat the other guy." Such bravado would be unwise.

But there was something about seeing sustained excellence for so long, for seven innings on both sides, with Cobb and Darvish showing why everyone who appreciates elite pitching anticipated this day.

Sure, the memory will disappear as the calendar turns. There will be other games. There will be other matchups. Little about April is recalled when the air chills and pennant races form. But this pitching duel was something to witness, and Cobb has no reason to be disappointed.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.