ARLINGTON -- Pulling the plug on a starting pitcher who is an out away from qualifying for a win is not an easy thing for a manager to do.
But Joe Maddon knew he had to give Alex Cobb the hook with two outs in the fifth, even though the Rays had a two-run lead.
That decision could not be second-guessed in the aftermath of their 8-4 win over the Rangers on Wednesday night at Rangers Ballpark, a win that snapped the Rays' four-game losing streak.
By winning, the Rays (71-59) moved to within four games of the American League East-leading Yankees, who lost to the Blue Jays on Wednesday afternoon. They are now 1-2 to start their seven-game road trip, which moves to Toronto on Thursday for a four-game set.
One night after taking their fourth 1-0 loss of August, the Rays came out swinging in a game that was played an hour earlier to help deal with the logistics of the Dallas Cowboys' preseason game at Cowboys Stadium, which is adjacent to Rangers Ballpark.
Evan Longoria hit the first of his two home runs in the Rays' three-run first.
"[Longoria is] definitely better against lefties," Rangers starter Matt Harrison said. "We were trying to pitch him away [because of his] hamstring injury to eliminate his power, and I just didn't make my pitches. I fell behind him."
B.J. Upton added a three-run blast in the second, and just like that, the Rays had a six-run lead.
"We knew we had to jump out to a quick lead, and we did that," Upton said.
Despite the big early lead, Cobb could not hold off the Rangers' attack. Mitch Moreland hit a two-run homer in the second, Elvis Andrus scored on a groundout in the third and Josh Hamilton homered into the upper deck in the fifth to cut the lead to two runs. One out later, Nelson Cruz singled. That's when Maddon left the dugout and signaled to his bullpen.
"When you get a big lead, then give it up, that's the one that really bothers you," Maddon said. "That's the one you carry. That was definitely in my mind -- to not permit the lead to go away. Because once they tied that game up, it would have been a feeding frenzy, regardless of who was pitching. So the point was to keep the lead at all costs, hopefully get a couple more runs and permit the bullpen to do their thing."
Burke Badenhop took over and retired Michael Young on a groundout to end the threat.
Jake McGee, Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney followed Badenhop, each pitching a scoreless inning to preserve the win.
Many starters would have been upset to be lifted one out short of earning a win, but Cobb understood.
"What did [the bullpen] give up, one hit?" Cobb said. "That's unreal against a team like that. That's why Joe did what he did. You can't second-guess anything. That was an awesome job by them."
Upton's homer had a little bit of good fortune behind it. Sam Fuld tripled with one out in the second, and Desmond Jennings followed with a walk to bring Upton to the plate.
Upton missed on a bunt attempt before swinging and missing for strike two. But he recovered to power a 1-2 pitch into the left-field stands, giving him 16 for the season while pushing the lead to six runs.
"Obviously, you have to stay on the fastball with a guy who has that kind of velocity," Upton said. "He's got that quick slide step, so I had to kind of preset myself and look for something to drive and put into play in that situation. He threw me something I could handle, and I took advantage of it."
Elliot Johnson added to the lead in the sixth when he homered to left off Harrison to give the Rays a three-run cushion, and Longoria added his second homer in the ninth.
"We kind of kept our foot down and didn't stop," Upton said. "We know with this lineup on the other side, they can hit -- especially in this park, so you never know what's going to happen. And I think all in all, we did what we needed to do today."
Despite the four-game losing streak, the Rays are 26-18 since the All-Star break.
"We knew we needed [to win on Wednesday night]," Upton said. "The first two games, [we lost] by one run. We definitely felt like we had an opportunity to win both of them, and we didn't. So we knew we had to bounce back today.
"Today was a big game. We needed a win today. Cobber came out and did his part. The bullpen came in and did their job. We continued to swing the bats late and we got a win, exactly what we needed."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.