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By The Sports Xchange April 24, 2013 11:20 PM
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- One of the Tampa Bay Rays' biggest concerns heading into the season was the ability to make up for the innings lost by trading durable starter James Shields to the Kansas City Royals. The Rays hoped that a young starter such as Alex Cobb could grow into that role, and Cobb promised from the start that he was capable of doing so. He showed it once again Wednesday night. Behind 8 1/3 shutout innings from Cobb, the Rays beat the New York Yankees 3-0 at Tropicana Field. Cobb's gem wrapped up a 5-1 homestand for Tampa Bay, a much-needed turnaround after a 2-7 road trip, and improved the Rays' record to 10-11. Tampa Bay won two of three against New York (11-9) after sweeping the Oakland A's over the weekend. "That was a tough road trip. It was becoming not fun to be in the clubhouse," Cobb said. "And we definitely made up for that during this homestand." The 25-year-old right-hander has been the Rays' most durable starter so far this season, pitching at least 6 2/3 innings in each of his four outings. He has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 18 of his last 19 starts dating back to July 6, 2012. To put it another way: He's looked a lot like Shields did during his peak in Tampa Bay. "I learned a lot from Shields. I learned the way he goes about every game," said Cobb, who has a 1.82 ERA. "When he's on the mound, nobody's better than him. Nobody's going to beat him. I kind of picked up on that. I've been like that my whole life. I never wanted to ever get beat, and nobody does. If you simplify it, break it down batter to batter and attack each guy with smart pitches, you're able to eat up a lot of innings. I think I did that a few times tonight." Cobb (3-1) fell two outs short of his second career shutout, allowing only three hits and a walk while striking out seven. He recorded one out in the ninth, then gave up a single to Brett Gardner, prompting Rays manager Joe Maddon to summon closer Fernando Rodney. Cobb expressed no disagreement with Maddon's decision and admitted he was tiring toward the end of the game, having thrown 106 pitches with the heart of the Yankees' lineup coming up. "He was still throwing the ball really well," Maddon said. "I wanted to give him that opportunity based on how everything was working out. But the groundball by Gardner, that was it." After Ichiro Suzuki singled to right field to put two runners on with one out, Rodney recorded the final two outs to secure his third save of the season. Cobb received what little run support he needed on Ben Zobrist's two-run double in the fifth inning and Sean Rodriguez's sixth-inning home run, his first of the season. "That's basically what we built our team on this year: good pitching, good defense and timely hitting," Rodriguez said. Andy Pettitte (3-1) pitched well for the Yankees, who have lost 13 of their past 16 games at Tropicana Field. The veteran lefty struck out 10 in six innings but fell short of the first 4-0 start of his career. He cruised through his first four innings before a hit batter and a defensive miscue helped Tampa Bay break through with the game's first runs. Pettitte hit Rays catcher Jose Molina in the left foot to lead off the fifth. Kelly Johnson grounded a single into right field and right through Brennan Boesch's legs, allowing Molina to advance to third and Johnson to second. After Pettitte struck out Desmond Jennings and Ryan Roberts, Zobrist came through with the clutch hit, a double to right-center field that brought home Molina and Johnson. "Bottom line is I had a chance to get out of that inning, and I didn't do it," Pettitte said. "When you get in that situation, you try to just give up a run. ... It's hard to swallow, that's for sure. Their kid threw a great game, and we weren't able to do much. Not a whole lot more than that on this one." Rodriguez added to the Rays' lead with a solo shot to left-center field, the deepest part of the ballpark, on the first pitch Pettitte threw in the sixth inning. Cobb took over from there, not quite going the distance but doing more than enough to shut down the Yankees. "He didn't make any mistakes," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He used his three pitches. His changeup is an outstanding pitch. He moved his fastball in and out. He didn't leave anything in the middle of the plate tonight." NOTES: Rays SS Yunel Escobar left the game before the seventh inning with tightness in his right hamstring. He is day-to-day. ... Yankees 1B Kevin Youkilis (sore lower back) sat out for the third straight game but could return to the lineup Thursday. ... Rays DH Luke Scott (right calf strain) took Wednesday off after going 1-for-4 with an RBI single in the first game of his minor league rehab assignment with Class A Charlotte. ... Yankees CF Curtis Granderson (fractured right wrist) took 15 swings in a batting cage Wednesday. ... In his latest attempt to keep the Rays' clubhouse loose, Maddon brought in two penguins from the Florida Aquarium before the game. ... Rays 3B Evan Longoria went 0-for-4, snapping his hitting streak at 10 games and his on-base streak at 20 games to start the season and 34 games overall. ... The Yankees had been 10-0 this season when holding their opponents to four runs or fewer.