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Alex Cobb Was Dealing So Hard, Gabe Kapler Conveniently Forgot How To Count

9:37 AM EDT on August 30, 2023

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 29: Alex Cobb #38 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Cincinnati Reds as a almost full moon rises behind him in the fifth inning at Oracle Park on August 29, 2023 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Alex Cobb did the unthinkable Tuesday night: He pitched so well that his manager Gabe Kapler committed the heretical act of letting him prove it.

Cobb, the 35-year-old journeyman who has served as second chair in San Francisco's two-and-a-half-man starting rotation, came within a batter of throwing a no-hitter at the Cincinnati Reds Tuesday night, a two-out, ninth-inning RBI double by Spencer Steer foiling an outing so impressive that Kapler, one of baseball's most orthodox analytics-driven managers, let him get the final out and hit the now-nearly-mythical 130-pitch mark. This is an almost inconceivable concession to old-timey baseball that surely must have had Farhan Zaidi, the team's head of baseball operations and a hyperanalytical operator himself, chewing through the furniture.

Indeed, Kapler committed to Cobb's best start ever by not even getting anyone up in the bullpen, a blasphemous act of faith that surely would never have been contemplated had a third-inning one-hopper by Nick Senzel that had been ruled a hit not been changed an inning later by the official scorer into a throwing error on Casey Schmitt, or had Austin Slater not cheated Will Benson with a diving catch in short left-center in the eighth. Without those two potentially historical prompts, Cobb probably would have been hooked after eight innings as the Holy Book Of Probabilities teaches, given that he was protecting a 6-0 Giants lead and given the team's thin starting rotation would be needed as fresh as possible for the stretch run.

But those two circumstances convinced Kapler to do the thing managers are no longer allowed to do: let a masterpiece play itself out no matter what the math says. When Kapler said afterward, "The right thing to do is to let a guy who's going like that continue to go," he was mostly lying because nobody ever gets to go any more. It was, however, a lie that satisfied the moment, so it will be allowed for narrative purposes.

Cobb's outing was only the fourth 130-pitch start in the major leagues since 2018, a span that started with Atlanta's Drew Newcomb losing a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth and getting the immediate hook. Hey, that's how it was done in the old days before the even older days.

Maybe it also mattered that Cobb's family was at the game, or that at 35 he is unlikely to brush so close to history again. His other close call was in 2014, when he took a no-hitter into the eighth but gave up a double to Chris Young on his 102nd pitch, was replaced immediately by Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay bullpen hocked up a 4-0 lead behind him.

That game was something of a nothingburger otherwise, but this was a game of import given that the Giants and Reds are two of the five teams trying to form a semi-orderly queue behind first wild-card locklet Philadelphia. By winning Tuesday, the Giants took a commanding half-game hold on sixth with less than a month to go, meaning there are only six more Cobb starts after this.

More importantly from a metaphysical view, though, Cobb's performance and Kapler's anti-analytical/pro-romantic choice allowed the Giants, who have largely blundered through the second half, to feel the illusion of momentum for the first time since a seven-game win streak in mid-July which in true Giants fashion was followed by a six-game losing streak. They got a superb second career start from rookie Kyle Harrison Monday night, and most amazingly, the worst offensive team in baseball since the break has scored 18 runs in their last three games after averaging barely 3.5 per game before that. Indeed, in this ziggurat of mediocrity that is the wild card race, the Giants are the new hottest team in the group, and all it takes is a three-game winning streak to achieve that.

But if stories are to be fabricated from a happy ending for this mostly blah-on-toast team, it might start Tuesday night, when Gabe Kapler invested in Alex Cobb's heart just as the baseball season is getting semi-serious. Maybe it's because the Giants have used fewer pitchers than any other team (20 after you scratch out the position players), so maybe Kapler thought the bullpen needed an off-day. Still, 131 pitches is Tungsten Arm O'Doyle territory for sure, and a betting person will feel great comfort in laying money that it won't be allowed to happen again.

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