Cobb comes up short, still has memorable night in Giants' win

Cobb comes up short, still has memorable night in Giants' win originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO -- In a drawer at the bottom of Alex Cobb's Oracle Park locker, there are three baseballs with varying levels of dirt covering them. They're enclosed in glass cases and have stickers to commemorate the moment they were pulled out of games this season.

A few weeks ago, Cobb pulled the three baseballs out and lined them up. He took a photo, one that was meant to remind him how many cool moments there already have been in the 12th season of his career. At times over all those years, when the injuries piled up and the starts gave way to endless days of rehab, Cobb considered quitting. Every time, his wife urged him to keep pushing.

Late Tuesday night, Cobb put another baseball in the collection. Had one play gone differently, it's a ball that might have been headed for the Baseball Hall of Fame instead.

Buoyed by an overturned call and a spectacular catch in center field, the Giants right-hander took a no-hitter through 26 outs at Oracle Park before Cincinnati's Spencer Steer lined a double into the gap in right-center field. Five weeks before his 36th birthday, Cobb settled for a one-hitter on what ended up being the longest night of his career by pitch count.

Cobb never had thrown more than 117 pitches in the big leagues, and that effort came 10 years ago when he was 25. He threw 131 on Tuesday, leading the Giants to a 6-1 win, their third straight overall and second straight in a very memorable fashion.

One night earlier, Cobb had leaned on the dugout rail and watched 22-year-old Kyle Harrison strike out the first five Reds and finish with 11 in a historic home debut. Cobb was proud of Harrison, but a thought hit him during the win: "I can't believe I have to follow this outing."

Twenty-four hours later, Harrison joined his smiling teammates in a handshake line on the mound. When he met Cobb, the veteran never broke stride.

"Had to top you," he told Harrison. "Sorry, kid."

Cobb somehow did, and he came one pitch away from giving the Giants an 18th no-hitter and their first since Chris Heston in 2015. The 125th pitch of the night was a splitter that caught too much of the plate, and Steer hit a screaming liner just over right fielder Luis Matos’ outstretched arm. Cobb dropped his head and walked slowly back to the mound, but a few minutes later, most of the disappointment had evaporated.

"It was still fun," he said. "I wasn't mad, sad, I was just, 'All right, let's finish it off.' I'd at least like the [complete game] out of it. So many things have to go right for one of those to happen."

Cobb had two major plays swing his way, including one that would have been one of the most interesting footnotes in a no-hitter in the game's history. In the third inning, Nick Senzel hit a hard grounder to third that took Casey Schmitt across the line. As he crossed back over into fair territory, Schmitt uncorked a 91-mph throw that was high and pulled J.D. Davis off the first-base bag.

The play initially was ruled a base hit, and nobody thought twice. But an inning later, the official scorekeeper changed it to an error on Schmitt. It wasn't until the seventh, when Cobb covered first on a grounder, that he noticed the change. He heard the crowd cheering uncharacteristically loud and didn't know what was going on until he got to the dugout and took a peak at the scoreboard, where a zero sat in the hits column.

The scoring change might have helped Cobb in a way. His previous best bid was 7 2/3 innings in 2014, and because he believed he had given up a hit in the third, he didn't feel any pressure through the middle innings. He spent part of that time formulating a plan.

"I was thinking about trying to throw a one-hitter and then challenge the play and get a no-hitter in like a week," he said with a smile.

The second marquee play came in the eighth, when Austin Slater made a Superman catch on a shallow flare to left center. Cobb never saw Slater, focusing instead on shortstop Paul DeJong, who was running out onto the grass. When Slater got his glove under the ball, the ballpark exploded, and that was repeated a couple of minutes later when a review confirmed the no-hitter-saving catch.

"I really wanted it for Cobber," Slater said. "I knew what was at stake. It was just a do-or-die play and everything was on the line, so I just went for it."

As Cobb took the mound in the ninth, he was just four pitches away from his previous career-high. He recorded the first out before walking Senzel, and perhaps pitching out of the stretch for the first time in more than an hour was just enough for a splitter to hang.

Instead of joining an exclusive club, Cobb became the first Giant to come one out shy of a no-hitter since Matt Moore in 2016 at Dodger Stadium. At 35, Cobb knows he might not have many more chances, but that didn't matter Tuesday night. He was happy to grab another souvenir that he one day can share with his young children.

He put it in his locker, next to the ball from his shutout earlier this season, the one from his 1,000th strikeout, and one from his first All-Star appearance. He'll never forget how this night felt, either. Late in the game, Cobb found joy in thinking about how he might share a no-hitter with his wife and two daughters.

"It's special when you have those thoughts and you're able to keep doing it and keep collecting all these memories that you're going to have for the rest of your life," he said.

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