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Rays turn to Alex Cobb, home cooking and threat of one-more-and-done to turn things around

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Alex Cobb looks to

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Alex Cobb looks to throw a pitch during the first inning against the Cleveland Indians during the American League Wild Card game. (Oct. 2, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Now, the Rays, insist, they're in their comfort zone.

Meaning back at Tropicana Field and, even more significant, facing elimination.

"It was just something different about the way this ballclub played when our lives were on the line," Rays righthander Alex Cobb said Sunday.

The Rays certainly are in that spot, trailing the Red Sox two games to none in this best-of-five ALDS that continues here Monday night.

Cobb (11-3, 2.76 ERA), who pitched brilliantly this season despite missing two months after getting hit in the head by a line drive, will start Game 3 against Clay Buchholz (12-1, 1.74).

"It's win or go home," said Cobb, who went 5-1 with a 2.41 ERA in nine starts after returning from his DL stint (June 16-Aug. 14) for a concussion. "I don't want to be the one sending us home."

Before the start of the ALDS, the Rays had won three straight games in three different cities (Toronto, Texas and Cleveland) in which they would have been eliminated had they lost.

Cobb, who turns 26 Monday, flummoxed the Indians on Wednesday for 6 2/3 scoreless innings in the Rays' 4-0 victory in the wild-card game.

Before that, the Rays won in Arlington, Texas, last Monday in a play-in game. A day earlier, they had to win in Toronto for the right to go to Arlington.

"I hope that we're able to respond [Monday night],'' Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said, "because I don't think . . . I'm definitely not done playing baseball this year."

Rays manager Joe Maddon expressed similar confidence after Saturday's loss in Boston, saying, "I'm really looking forward to Game 5 here."

The Rays, of course, would love to send the series back to Fenway, though they were plenty happy to be leaving the ancient ballpark. The Red Sox, baseball's top-scoring team, scored 19 runs in the first two games. They slapped balls off the Green Monster in left with regularity, and the Rays misplayed those balls almost as frequently.

"They played to the advantages of their home ballpark," Cobb said. "There's a lot of balls hit off that wall that were typical outs here . . . I'm not taking away those 19 runs that they got, but there's definitely a different game to be played outside of Fenway Park. I realized that, the pitching staff realizes that, so I don't need to be nervous going into [Monday night] . . . The game is played differently in Tropicana than Fenway Park."

Though some might read that as bulletin-board fodder, Red Sox manager John Farrell didn't dispute Cobb.

"I think we've all seen that Fenway can create some interesting moments," Farrell said. "Our lefthanders have the ability to go the other way quite frequently. And they can take advantage of that wall, which I think played out in the first two games."

The Red Sox are approaching the Rays warily despite having so much regular-season success against them. Boston went 12-7 against Tampa Bay, scoring 71 runs in the 19 games and allowing 57. The Red Sox were especially rough on Cobb, who went 0-1 with a 5.16 ERA in four starts, all losses by the Rays.

Still . . .

"Tampa has great pitching, man; you can never doubt them," said David Ortiz, who homered twice in Game 2. "You got to come in, fight, play well, because they are just like we are -- the minute you make a mistake, they hunt you down."

With David Lennon

New York Sports