PITTSBURGH — The Rays could not reward Alex Cobb‘s outstanding effort Tuesday night, but they would not leave without a win. After closer Alex Colome blew a two-run lead in the ninth, Steven Souza Jr. singled off Felipe Rivero and scored on an error by David Freese in the 10th inning as the Rays beat the Pirates, 4-2, at PNC Park.
“Great win. Obviously it all starts with Alex Cobb,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Just an outstanding performance on his part. … Other than Alex Cobb, I think the story was the at-bats that we had against Rivero. He’s been one of the game’s best this year.”
Cobb flirted with history, breezing through six no-hit innings before Josh Harrison, the Pirates’ lone baserunner to that point, led off the seventh with a single to right field. Still, Cobb — pitching mostly without the once-dominant changeup that’s been slow to return since his 2015 Tommy John surgery — buckled down. He escaped the seventh, retired the Pirates in order in the eighth and put the game in Colome’s hands.
Colome grazed pinch-hitter John Jaso‘s helmet with a 94.9-mph fastball, and Harrison lined a one-out double to right field. That put two runners in scoring position for Andrew McCutchen, elevated back into the No. 3 spot in the lineup Tuesday for the first time in a month. McCutchen promptly pulled a game-tying double down the left-field line.
“Alex had a rough inning,” Cash said. “He’s had a rough couple of outings. Not going to read too much into it. He’s allowed to go through some lumps just like a lot of our players are. He will get through.”
The Rays intentionally walked Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco, but Jordy Mercer flied out to left field to force extras. Souza scored from first when Freese booted Wilson Ramos‘ grounder, and newly acquired shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria plated another run with a sacrifice fly. With a double play in mind, Freese attempted to backhand Ramos’ grounder but botched the attempt.
“Just a tough way to end it,” Freese said. “Got to make the play and keep us alive.”
Cobb outdueled and overshadowed Pirates right-hander Trevor Williams, who put together the best start of his young career. The rookie cruised through seven innings, struck out seven without a walk and pitched into the eighth for the first time in the Majors. He gave up one run in the fourth inning on a trio of ground balls and another in the eighth, when Tim Beckham doubled and scored on a single by Hechavarria.
“Baseball’s a game of inches, and it bounced their way tonight,” Williams said. “Baseball is weird, and such is life.”
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Hech of a play: It took less than two innings for Hechavarria to prove his value to the Rays. Bell led off the second inning with a hard grounder into the hole, but Hechavarria — plugged into Tampa Bay’s lineup a day after being acquired in a trade with Miami — laid out to make a diving stop, jumped to his feet and bounced a throw across the infield to Logan Morrison for the out at first base.
“I thought it was one of the best plays I have ever seen,” Cash said. “To be able to do that, that early in the game, the whole dugout just kind of started looking at each other like, ‘What a play.’ Excited to have him. We said from the get-go that it’s going to make our defense better with him and Beckham up the middle, and it showed today.”
Hits, but no run: The Pirates finally broke through against Cobb in the seventh, as Harrison and McCutchen recorded consecutive singles to put two runners on with no outs. But Cobb masterfully navigated through the jam, getting Bell to ground into a 5-4-3 double play before Freese bounced an inning-ending groundout to third baseman Evan Longoria.
“It’s definitely the biggest moment of the game up to that point,” Cobb said. “The defense turned that double play perfectly. … The momentum could have shifted to their side, and we kept it on our end.”
“We are never talked about. We are in a very good division, we realize that. But we also noticed that people aren’t talking about us. If you are able to see us play every day, we are a good ballclub. There are some aspects of the game that we are going to need to get better at. But we are right where we want to be right now.” — Cobb, on the Rays’ playoff hopes
“Dave’s a really solid defender. I know he’s disappointed, but the ball looked like it took a tricky little bounce.”— Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, on Freese’s misplay
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
As quickly and efficient as he shut down the Pirates, Cobb did not do so with swing-and-miss stuff. According to Statcast™, Cobb induced only two swinging strikes on the night: one by McCutchen before his seventh-inning single and Polanco’s whiff at a curveball as he struck out to lead off the eighth inning. That total does not include foul tips, however, like the one Williams struck out on to end the third.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
With runners on the corners and one out in the fourth inning, Souza Jr. hit a ground ball to Pirates shortstop Mercer. As Corey Dickerson scored from third, Mercer made the tough play and fired to second baseman Harrison, forcing out Morrison. The Rays challenged the call, but the initial call would stand after a replay review, costing Tampa Bay its challenge.
Rays: Blake Snell will get the call for the Rays on Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. ET at PNC Park. Snell rejoins the rotation after making adjustments in Triple-A. Something clicked: he struck out 61 in 44 innings with a 2.66 ERA in Durham after fanning 34 in 42 innings with a 6.00 ERA with the Rays. He surpassed five innings in each start.
Pirates: Right-hander Ivan Nova will start for the Pirates as they continue their three-game series against the Rays at 7:05 p.m. ET on Wednesday at PNC Park. Nova, who worked at least six innings in each of his first 15 starts, owns a 2.53 ERA in seven starts at home this season. The former Yankee is 8-7 with a 3.95 ERA in his career against Tampa Bay.