ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Alex Cobb said pitching after lefty Matt Moore -- who is off to an 8-0 start this year -- makes him want to "keep up" with his good friend and teammate.
"It's tough," Cobb said, smiling.
But Cobb is certainly holding his own, continuing his "groove" with an impressive 8 1/3 innings on Sunday in an 8-3 win over the Yankees in front of 24,159 at Tropicana Field.
"He was wonderful," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He was that good."
Cobb (6-2), whose start was moved up a day to face the first-place Yankees, allowed just two runs, striking out eight and walking none.
It would take two relievers to get the final two outs, as lefty Cesar Ramos struggled, giving up two walks and a two-run double before being replaced by Joel Peralta, who struck out two while stranding two on base.
But with the victory, the Rays (25-24) avoided a three-game sweep and pulled back to within five games of the first-place Yankees (30-19).
"These big games, I love to have them," Cobb said. "And they really make me focus in a lot more."
Cobb came three outs away from a complete-game shutout, but he gave up a solo homer to Brett Gardner to lead off the ninth, and was pulled with one on and one out after 113 pitches, matching a season-high longest outing.
"He's really good," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Cobb. "The young man knows how to pitch. He locates extremely well. He's got one of the best changes -- or split-change, whatever you want to call it -- in the game and he's pitching."
The Rays had broken the game open against New York ace lefty CC Sabathia with a three-run sixth, thanks to an RBI triple by Yunel Escobar and two-run homer by first baseman James Loney. Sabathia (4-4), who allowed a season-high seven runs and seven hits over seven innings, is winless in his last five starts.
"I'm hurting the team, I'm not helping the team out," Sabathia said. "I just need to get better. It's everything -- not being able to make pitches, two strikes, fastball command. It's just not been good."
Cobb was brilliant, retiring 18 of the first 19 he faced. The Yankees got their first hit in the third in controversial fashion, with Jayson Nix reaching on an infield single on a close play at first.
Maddon came out to argue, saying he "felt strongly" Nix was "significantly out."
Cobb said he tried not to think about it, or let the call impact him. And it didn't, as Cobb wouldn't give up another hit until Robinson Cano's no-doubt single to center to start the seventh.
Cobb said it was a lot easier to pitch considering the Rays gave him such a big lead, scoring two runs apiece in the second and third before adding three more in the sixth.
In the second, Tampa Bay loaded the bases without hitting the ball out of the infield. Sean Rodriguez was hit by a pitch and moved to second when a throw on an attempted force play by Yankees third baseman David Adams was high and wide.
Loney reached on another fielder's choice to load the bases, and catcher Jose Lobaton hit a bases-loaded bloop single to score a run. Sam Fuld added a sacrifice fly to make the score 2-0.
The Rays added two more runs in the third, thanks to a two-run homer by Rodriguez.
But the story was Cobb, who won his fourth start in his past five.
"Unbelievable," Rodriguez said. "He's been good all year. He's been as consistent as you can find on the mound next to anybody in the big leagues, except maybe Matt."
NOTES: Struggling Rays RHP Fernando Rodney, who blew his fifth save Saturday, said his confidence is still strong and it's "too early" to consider removing him from the closer's role. ... Before Sunday's game, the Yankees added LHP David Huff, claimed off waivers by the Cleveland Indians, to the roster and designated OF Ben Francisco for assignment.