CLEVELAND - Alex Cobb had no idea about his pitch count today as he sat in the dugout after the seventh inning. He only knew that it felt light.
Pitching coach Roger McDowell checked on him. Cobb said he was good and asked for the total more out of curiosity than any signs that his day was ending.
Barreling toward his fourth career complete game, Cobb returned to the mound in the eighth at 77 pitches. Paul Fry stopped warming in the bullpen. Mychal Givens sat back down in the ninth. Cobb was going to finish what he started.
Ten more pitches in the eighth, 13 in the ninth and a complete-game victory over the Indians at Progressive Field.
“I had a pretty good idea that I was good,” Cobb said after the 4-2 win. “I actually never found the pitch counter in the stadium, so I was going by feel. They were aggressive, they were getting outs and they had some double plays.”
And finally, after talking to McDowell, Cobb had an inkling about what it would take to go nine innings for the first time since tossing a shutout against the Athletics on Aug. 23, 2012.
“Then I really tried to kind of sniff the finish line from there on out,” he said. “You’ve got that many pitches to work through two innings, you get another gear and you get that adrenaline going to finish it off.”
Cobb actually dived for Francisco Lindor’s ground ball to second base leading off the ninth, face-planting in an attempt to get the out.
“If that doesn’t fire you up,” said rookie catcher Austin Wynns. “It’s like, he’s a dog, like he is an animal out there. He is a different person. Pitchers just need to have that sense of, like ... this is my game, I’m doing it, and I was with him the whole way, same page. And that’s why we had a day like today.”
Cobb had his complete game and lowered his second-half ERA to 2.03 in 40 innings.
“It was tough early on in the season, dealing with just the failures, not only as a team but me personally, and feeling like I really contributed poorly to the first half,” Cobb said. “You try to pick yourself up and build on some positives and make a run with that and really show that you can contribute, you should be here. That’s been my focus since I got here, really.
“It feels good to have contributed with where we are at in the standings. I think the process we’re in right now, it’s going to take some veteran leadership and some guys to step up and show that no matter what situation we’re in, we’re going to come play hard every day.”
The meaning behind going the distance intensifies when considering his Tommy John surgery that cost him an entire season and his miserable start in 2018 after signing in late March.
“But the second you take the ball when you start throwing warm-up pitches in the outfield, your mindset is to go nine,” he said. “It’s to throw a perfect game every time out. That’s my mindset. Obviously, you fail every time out there doing that, but you check off your list.
“You try to throw a perfect game, you try to throw a no-hitter, you try to throw a shutout, you try to throw just a complete game. It’s always on my mind. It’s always something I’m trying to do and it feels really good to get it, absolutely.”
Cobb retired the first nine batters and faced the minimum through the fifth before running into serious trouble in a two-run sixth. He induced a double play ball from Melky Cabrera to end the seventh after a walk and single.
“Alex seemed to dial up what was needed,” Showalter said. “You could tell from the first inning. He took a lot of the crowd out, I thought. That’s a really hard lineup to do.”
Jonathan Villar’s three-run homer in the third inning loomed large as shadows creeping in front of home plate were going to make it much harder to identify and square up pitches later in the game.
“You get past the fourth or fifth inning in four o’clock games, you’re guessing where the ball may end up,” Showalter said. “I understand it’s money and it’s TV and what have you, but I wish sometimes those people would try to get in the box and stand in the shadows and try to hit. What you’re trying to do is collide with the ball.”
Cedric Mullins did it in the eighth inning for his first major league home run that increased the lead to 4-2.
The reception in the dugout was the polar opposite of the traditional silent treatment.
“Oh, it was awesome,” he said. “The (sunflower) seeds getting thrown in my face. I never had that happen before. I think one got me in the eye a little bit, but it was fun to be able to get the first one out of the way.”
Mullins fueled the rally in the third inning with a bunt single after Wynns walked. Villar unloaded on starter Adam Plutko, watching his ball land deep in the lower second in right field.
What felt better to Mullins, the bunt or the home run?
“I felt more accomplished with the bunt single, in all honesty,” he said. “It created some momentum on our offense and Villar came up and was able to take complete advantage of it.”
Mullins cut off another ball in the gap, as he did last night, and the defense made a handful of other plays that benefitted Cobb, whose four wins this season have come on the road. Cobb has strung together five straight quality starts.
“It was awesome,” Mullins said. “He made our job easy. We were able to make the plays for him when needed and he pitched an amazing game.”
“It was definitely special,” Wynns said. “It was special and it was an amazing experience. All of his stuff was electric. He was spotting his ball and our defense helped out. Our offense was there, too, when we needed it. It was great. It was a good baseball game. It was awesome.”
Wynns figured out early that Cobb was on top of his game.
“Right from the get-go,” he said. “All of his stuff, it was just like he was spotting everything. And they were swinging early and our defense was working, too. We were just, ‘All right.’
“I probably want to say, though, the fifth inning is when it started kicking in and I was like, ‘We’re going to do this, we’re going to do this.’ We were at like 40-50 pitches and I was like, ‘Oh yean, we’re going,’ so that was cool.”
Wynns ended the sixth inning by throwing out Francisco Lindor trying to steal second base, a risky gamble by the Indians shortstop with Cobb already surrendering two runs. Wynns anticipated that Lindor would break and he made a strong throw to Tim Beckham for his sixth caught stealing in 14 attempts.
“Just like that sense of, ‘All right, he’s probably going to go,’” Wynns said. “He’s their best runner almost and then (Cobb) held him really well, he held him. He paused and held it for like five seconds almost and then he threw it.
“It was him, he set it up for me. I was just trying to get it there and (Beckham) just slapped it on. It was perfect.”
Said Cobb: “I’m never surprised when any of these guys are on base and they try to steal. It’s just what they do. They’re just a super athletic team, they don’t strike out, they steal bases, they hit well.
“I knew there was a big potential for him with the size of his lead that he had, and my only job was to try to hold him as long as I could and then Wynny, just unbelievable. Both of our catchers back there, unbelievable. I’ve never had that tool that they have back there, to really gun guys. All you’ve got to do is give them a chance and for the most part, they’re going to get them.”
Cobb and Wynns were in sync all day and shared the shutout. Cobb wasn’t going to take full credit.
“It feels really good to have that with Wynns behind the plate,” he said. “A young guy just coming up, he’s grown so much since he first got up here. He’s learned me as a pitcher and what I like to do and he’s helped me navigate through lineups and starting to get a lot more confidence back there in his pitch calling and trusting his eyes, too.
“I told him after the game, that’s his. It’s nice to see when you have young guys come up, them grow and be able to contribute as quickly as he has.”
The game lasted only 2 hours, 17 minutes, in part because Indians pitching retired 16 Orioles in a row, the first 14 by Plutko. But also because Cobb settled into a nice tempo.
“I’ve started probably feeling that a few games ago where I was just kind of getting the ball going, stop thinking so much, get the mechanics thoughts out of your mind and just go at it,” Cobb said.
“I feel like it has helped do a couple things. Keep the hitters off-balance. They never like to be rushed. It keeps your defense engaged a lot better and it makes the pace of the game a lot better. It feels good to get on the field and off the field real quick. It’s something I’m going to probably continue to do.”