As custom has dictated lately, the Rays' starting pitching led the way Wednesday. After surviving a shaky first without allowing a run, Alex Cobb settled down to hold the Athletics to one run on four hits in seven innings to pick up his fifth win of the season.
"That was more what he looked like in July last year when he came up and helped us out," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Better command of his fastball, threw some really good curveballs. Changeup had more depth. As an example, the swing [Brandon] Moss had when he struck out. [Cobb] threw fastball, curveball, changeup -- see ya."
Cobb said that watching James Shields, who carved up the Athletics on Tuesday night, helped him with his approach Wednesday.
"I got to watch Shields for five or six innings," Cobb said. "He was just attacking with his fastball all day. I saw that he had a lot of success with lefties going down and away, same with righties. So that was my main approach today.
"First inning, my back foot kept slipping and I wasn't able to throw as many fastballs as I'd like. I was only able to throw my changeup that first inning. But later in the game I made a conscious effort to attack my fastball and get ahead. And yeah, I saw him do that, and I worked my curveball in later."
The Rays got busy early in Wednesday afternoon's game that had a 12:35 local start at the Coliseum.
Matt Joyce singled home Desmond Jennings in the first and Ryan Roberts singled home Jeff Keppinger in the fourth to put the Rays up, 2-0.
Brandon Inge hit a solo home run in the fifth off Cobb, which was the first home run Cobb has allowed to a right-handed hitter in his Major League career. Cobb had previously gone 219 plate appearances without surrendering a long ball to a right-handed batter.
"He did a great job of getting strike one, a great job all day long," Inge said about Cobb. "He was jumping ahead, 0-2, several times on a lot of guys, and he was making his pitches and wasn't giving anything where we could really do a lot of damage. His changeup was above average today, and he mixed in a lot more curveballs than he usually does. He was very effective."
Carlos Pena answered for the Rays in the sixth, when he slapped an RBI double into the right-field corner. He added a solo home run off Jordan Norberto in the eighth, giving him 15 home runs for the season while giving the Rays a 4-1 lead.
Pena had five RBIs in the Oakland series, which felt gratifying to the veteran slugger -- based on his offensive struggles to date this season.
"Of course, when you connect for a ball and you put a ball in the seats and put another run on the board, to contribute in that way, in that magnitude, obviously, feels very good and it's very satisfying because I work so hard on my craft. To actually reap some of the rewards, it's very encouraging," Pena said.
The Rays' pitching has been lights-out lately. Since the All-Star break, Tampa Bay pitchers lead the Major Leagues in team ERA, strikeouts, and opponents' batting average. Meanwhile, Rays relievers have worked 60 2/3 innings since the All-Star break and have been scored upon in just five of those innings.
Two of those innings came Wednesday, when Joel Peralta pitched a scoreless eighth in advance of Fernando Rodney pitching the ninth and picking up his 31st save of the season -- firing one of his imaginary arrows at the Oakland skyline afterward.
If the Rays aren't on a roll, it sure felt like one on Wednesday.
"This is good," Pena said. "This is really good. Winning on the road is always a challenge, I think for every single team. To win on the road is always more difficult people will say, historically. So to come out of this road trip after playing great ballclubs like we did, and win all three series, is a very positive sign. And we want to ride this positive momentum."
Added Maddon: "As long as our pitchers are on a roll, we have a good shot."