ST. PETERSBURG -- The men on the mound Friday night weren't just starting pitchers dueling it out in the Rays' 5-0 series-opening win over the Yankees. Tampa Bay's Alex Cobb and New York's Brandon McCarthy have a more interesting connection.
Both Cobb and McCarthy have had to come back from being hit in the head with line drives during games. Both have had to deal with the long recovery from a serious head injury that followed.
"I thought about that in the dugout," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "And I don't even know that that was brought up a whole lot before, but you could see two really mentally strong players."
Cobb was hit on June 15 of last season by a comebacker off the bat of Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer. He was out of baseball for two months dealing with the concussion symptoms.
McCarthy's injury happened the previous year -- on Sept. 5, 2012, while he was with the A's -- and was even more serious. He had to have emergency surgery to relieve cranial pressure after suffering an epidural hemorrhage, brain contusion and skull fracture after being struck with Angels shortstop Erick Aybar's line drive.
Both Cobb and McCarthy have since made full recoveries, and both were sharp when they matched up against each other at The Trop on Friday.
"I'm sure Cobber never thought of it, and from what I saw, McCarthy never did either," Maddon said. "They were out there pitching without any encumbrance. They were just out there with their great stuff and competitive nature. It was a great pitching matchup tonight."
Cobb got the better of it, shutting the Yankees out over 7 1/3 innings, striking out eight and leaving to a standing ovation from the Tropicana Field crowd.
And yet, when he left the game in the eighth after allowing a single and a walk, he was frustrated he hadn't done more.
"A little upset just because I wanted to try to go as deep as I could," Cobb said. "But you know, once you cool off a little bit in the dugout and you realize it's a good game, you're happy."
He did plenty, though, according to Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
"He was stingy," Girardi said.
But McCarthy was tough on the Rays, too -- certainly tougher than the four runs he was charged with might seem to indicate.
For one, only two of those four runs were earned. For another, three of them came on groundouts -- all of which had a chance at being double-play balls, but none of which the Yankees could turn.
"I thought Mac did a great job of holding them down," Girardi said. "He gave us a chance to get back in."
McCarthy, though, was critical of his outing, especially the first inning -- the Rays loaded the bases with nobody out, which led to two runs, though both were on fielder's choices.
"Bottom line, it was enough poor pitches to set us up in a bad spot," McCarthy said.
Still, Maddon was as complimentary of McCarthy as Girardi was of Cobb.
"It was gonna be a matter of two starters butting heads this entire game, and just keeping them out of the scoring column. Because we weren't gonna score a lot of runs against them -- McCarthy," Maddon said, pounding his finger on his desk. "He. Is. Good."
David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.