Right-hander Alex Cobb left Lance Lynn and the St. Louis Cardinals little margin for error Wednesday night.
Cobb worked seven scoreless innings, struck out 10 and collected his first career hit and RBI to spark the Tampa Bay Rays to a 3-0 victory over the Cardinals before 43,564 at Busch Stadium.
Cobb's RBI double in the second put the Rays ahead for good against Lynn (11-7), whose three-game winning streak was snapped despite allowing just two runs (one earned), walking three and striking out seven in 6 1/3 innings.
"I threw the ball well," Lynn said. "I just gave up a couple too many, with the way (Cobb) was throwing the ball. That will happen some nights. Some nights, you're just going to get outpitched even though you pitch all right. That's the beauty of the game."
Evan Longoria added a sacrifice fly in the seventh and Brandon Guyer had an RBI single in the ninth for Tampa Bay (49-53), which swept the two-game series and is 25-11 in its last 36 games to crawl back into contention in the American League East.
The Cardinals (54-47) dropped their third straight and fell 2 1/2 games behind first-place Milwaukee (57-45) in the National League Central. They have been shut out 10 times this season.
"We just had trouble stacking anything (together)," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Just overall, we're fighting. ... The last two days, they've had our number."
Cobb (6-6) permitted five hits and issued no walks. Brandon Boxberger worked a perfect eighth and Jake McGee struck out the side in the ninth for his ninth save. The Cardinals fanned 15 times.
The Rays already led 1-0 in the seventh when Desmond Jennings singled with one out and went to third on an error by second baseman Kolten Wong as Wong ranged to his right to attempt a backhand on Ben Zobrist's sharp grounder.
"That's a double-play ball," said Lynn, acknowledging that it might not have made a difference with the way Cobb and the relievers threw. "(Cobb) probably threw the ball the best he has all year."
After Wong's error, Guyer pinch-hit for Matt Joyce, and Lynn was relieved by Randy Choate, who walked to load the bases.
Seth Maness relieved Choate and Longoria followed with his sacrifice fly to center to make it 2-0. Tampa Bay added insurance in the ninth on Guyer's hit against Sam Freeman.
Opposing pitchers did damage to the Cardinals rotation in the series. Lynn wild-pitched Yunel Escobar to second before Cobb's double into the right-field corner made it 1-0 in the first. Escobar had reached on a one-out infield single.
"That was the coolest thing I've done in my big-league career," Cobb said. "I was kind of secretly hoping it was going to be a 1-0 win."
Lynn was surprised Cobb kept the ball fair.
"A ball at his neck that he shot down the right-field line," he said. "Good swing, I guess. He swung at a ball at his neck. It happens. Later in the game, I threw him a ball right down the middle and he hit a six-hopper to the shortstop."
On Tuesday, Highland native Jake Odorizzi's squeeze tied the game at 1 against Adam Wainwright. Odorizzi then coaxed a walk in the Rays' five-run fifth that carried them to a 7-2 win.
The Cardinals' only hits against Cobb were singles by Oscar Taveras in the second, Tony Cruz in the third and Matt Adams and Jhonny Peralta in the fourth, and a double by Matt Carpenter in the sixth.
Carpenter went to third on Wong's sacrifice, but was thrown out at home when Matt Holliday grounded to third. Adams ended the threat with a comebacker to Cobb.
The Cardinals have three hits in their last 35 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Jon Jay appeared to have walked on a 3-2 pitch from Cobb in the seventh, but plate umpire Dan Bellino said the pitch instead made the count 3-2. Jay eventually struck out.
Jay had indeed drew the walk, and the Cardinals could have challenged Bellino. But Matheny said he and his coaches and players didn't recognize Bellino's mistake.
"That was ball four," Matheny said. "I missed it. That's huge, because that puts the tying run at the plate at that point. It's a big part of the game. (Jay) stepped back and asked the umpire what he had, and the umpire was going along with the board, which said 2-2 at that point. I didn't have it. That's on me. That's my job."
Escobar was ejected by Bellino in the fourth. Bellino called out Escobar on strikes as Escobar broke for first on what he believed was ball four.