ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Rays starter Alex Cobb wasn't sure to feel after his unusually historic start against the San Diego Padres on Friday night at Tropicana Field.
On one hand, he threw only 4 2/3 innings, snapping the Rays' season-opening streak of 34 games in which their starters pitched at least five innings. On the other, he struck out a career-high 13 batters and became the first pitcher in major-league history to strike out 13 batters in an appearance that lasted less than five innings.
"I don't know if that's a good thing," Cobb said. "You kind of want to go five innings every time out."
Cobb yielded three runs and left the game in the fifth in line to take the loss, but in the back of his mind, he knew the Rays' lineup was capable of a comeback. Sure enough, it came in the form of a four-run seventh inning as Tampa Bay (17-18) pulled off a 6-3 win over San Diego (16-19).
The victory pulled the Rays within one game of .500 and halted the Padres' four-game winning streak. San Diego has still won 11 of its last 15 games.
"The way this offense has been swinging the bat, I knew if I kept them there we would win the ballgame," Cobb said. "The offense has definitely put all these pitchers' minds at ease on that side of things. So we've got to pitch longer, deeper and better as a starting staff. I think we're starting to roll that way."
Cobb's start was unusual from the beginning, as he served up solo homers to Padres outfielders Will Venable and Carlos Quentin -- the first time in his career he's allowed two homers in the same inning. It only got more bizarre from there.
Venable struck out to lead off the third but still reached first base on a wild pitch on the third strike. Venable then stole second when Chase Headley struck out and swiped third with Quentin, who wound up swinging at strike three, at the plate.
With two outs and Cobb facing first baseman Yonder Alonso, home-plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth called Cobb for a balk, which scored Venable. Cobb then struck out Alonso, becoming the first pitcher since at least 1984 to face four batters in an inning, strike out all four and still allow a run.
"That was really bizarre. It is amazing," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That's about as bizarre as it gets."
"You don't see that every day," added Padres manager Bud Black.
So, in a way, it was perfectly representative of a night that even Cobb couldn't really figure out.
"Obviously that's not my goal. You're never going into a game trying to strike everybody out," Cobb said. "I was trying to put balls over the plate and have them make weak contact, and they were swinging and missing. The first and second strike, I'm just trying to have them put the ball in play. Once I get that, I'm trying to finish them off. I can't really explain why or how that happened. It's just one of those weird days."
Tampa Bay got two runs back in the bottom of the third against Padres starter Edinson Volquez, but the Rays' offense really got rolling once they knocked out Volquez, who allowed two runs over six solid innings, bringing his ERA over the last five starts to 2.59.
The Rays batted around in the seventh against a trio of Padres relievers to pull ahead. The first five Rays who came to the plate in the inning reached safely, including second baseman Ryan Roberts, who put Tampa Bay ahead with a two-run single to left field off Padres right-hander Dale Thayer. Ben Zobrist added to the Rays' lead by knocking a two-run single off Anthony Bass just in front of Padres center fielder Will Venable.
"They took advantage of putting the ball in play," Black said. "That's what you get when you put the ball in play ... We had some chances to put some guys away, got ahead in the count, just couldn't wipe them out, couldn't make that pitch to extend the tie."
Tampa Bay's bullpen, meanwhile, held the line after Cobb's short, strikeout-heavy outing. Josh Lueke retired all four batters he faced, lefty Jake McGee threw his first perfect inning since April 13 and Joel Peralta worked a scoreless eighth inning. That set up closer Fernando Rodney, who converted his fifth save of the season and struck out two in the ninth, with the second one tying the Rays' franchise record with 18 strikeouts in a nine-inning game.
NOTES: The Padres will call up right-hander Burch Smith from Double-A San Antonio on Saturday to make his major league debut. Smith, 23, is 1-2 with a 1.15 ERA for the San Antonio Missions this season, striking out 37 with just six walks and a .155 opponents' batting average. San Diego will have to make a move on its active roster to clear a spot for Smith, who will also have to be added to the Padres' 40-man roster. ... The Rays placed right-handed reliever Brandon Gomes on the 15-day disabled list with a right lat strain and called up Lueke, who was 2-0 with seven saves and a 0.95 ERA in 14 games for Triple-A Durham this season. Gomes didn't know when he sustained the injury or when he'll be able to return but said it recently started to affect him every time he threw a pitch. Lueke found out about his call-up late Thursday night while playing "Call of Duty" with a Durham Bulls teammate. ... Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings sat out Friday with a sore groin that Maddon described as "nothing awful." He could return Saturday. ... Tampa Bay catcher Jose Molina, who left Thursday night's game with a bruised right knee, was feeling "fine" on Friday but didn't play. ... Maddon sent Black, a longtime friend, a bottle of wine with instructions to leave it unopened until a "Pad-Rays" World Series matchup. ... The umpiring crew for this series consists of crew chief Culbreth, Brian O'Nora, Bill Welke and Adrian Johnson, who were disciplined Friday for misapplying Rule 3.05(b) in Thursday night's Angels-Astros game. Culbreth told a pool reporter after the game that he's taking "all the responsibility" for what happened in the seventh inning of the Angels-Astros game and explained that, at that point, the umpires "thought we were doing right."