ST. PETERSBURG -- The magic happens for the Rays any time their starter logs six-plus innings. Alex Cobb went five Monday night; do the math.
Added up, it equaled an 8-1 loss to the Pirates at Tropicana Field, leaving the Rays (31-47) 12 games behind the first-place Blue Jays in the American League East.
The Rays are 23-15 this season when their starter goes six innings or more. After Monday night's loss, they are 8-32 when the starter does not.
Alex Cobb took the mound Monday night seeking his third win of the season and he had a rough go from the beginning.
Pittsburgh scored two in the first on an Ike Davis groundout that drove home the first run and a Russell Martin single off Cobb's right leg that scored the second.
Tampa Bay answered in the bottom half of the inning when James Loney singled home Desmond Jennings with two outs, but the Pirates got busy again in the third when Andrew McCutchen singled home a run and Pedro Alvarez hit a three-run homer to center field to put the Pirates up, 6-1.
"It was supposed to be in a little more," said Cobb of the fastball Alvarez hit. "I'd thrown him a few changeups the at-bat before, so I thought I might have had the inner half opened up a little bit. But it's tough to sneak a fastball down the middle."
Cobb allowed six runs on six hits and three walks while striking out two in five innings to take his sixth loss of the season.
"First inning, I felt a little bit out of whack, but then I felt like I gathered myself pretty well," Cobb said. "After that, the third inning, the runs that were scored off the home run, I can trace the bad outing back to that pitch he hit out. Otherwise I felt, stuff-wise, pretty good."
Alvarez allowed that the Pirates had a good approach against Cobb on Monday night.
"Trying to swing at our pitches and just staying aggressive within our approach and our zone and laying off the good pitcher's pitches," Alvarez said.
The Pirates padded their lead when Travis Snider singled home a run against Kirby Yates in the eighth and McCutchen added an RBI single in the ninth off Yates to make it 8-1. By the time Josh Harrison stood in to face Yates with two outs in the ninth, infielder Logan Forsythe could be seen warming in the Rays' bullpen. But Yates used his 53rd pitch to retire Harrison on a force play for the third out.
Mixed into the loss were the three double plays turned by the Pirates, and they stole four bases in four attempts, reminiscent of Rays teams past that pressured defenses with their speed. And Edinson Volquez held the Rays to one run on five hits in eight innings to pick up his fifth win of the season.
"A lot of good pitches with a runner on first base," Volquez said. "I got three or four double plays to save my pitch count. I was able to control my fastball down in the bottom of the strike zone."
The Rays remained the Major Leagues' worst team, a title they have held for 20 straight days. Meanwhile, the Pirates won for the fourth time in five games and looked like a team heading in the opposite direction.
"Listen, they played a wonderful game tonight and I give them credit for that," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "The clock works on 24 hours. Our goal is still to win the series. ... We did not play our best game tonight. We've been playing better. I would much prefer we stay focused on our short-term goal, and that's to win two out of three and win the series."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.