Archer, Rays blank Astros to finish first half
ST. PETERSBURG – The leaping chest-bump performed near the mound by the Rays' starting pitchers after a complete game is a simple maneuver, though if the timing is off you end up like Chris Archer, who was on his way up when everyone else was on the way down after David Price's complete game earlier on the homestand.
No problem. Price told Archer early Sunday afternoon that Archer would have a chance to redeem himself later in the day. A nice show of confidence from Price since the rookie was to face the Astros less than two hours later.
But Price nailed his prediction, and Archer nailed the jump.
Archer threw the first complete-game shutout of his big-league career as the Rays finished off the 10-game homestand with a 5-0 victory against the Astros in front of 21,180 at Tropicana Field.
"This is the best game I ever pitched in my life, so it means everything," Archer said.
The Rays completed the best three-team homestand in club history, going 9-1 against the White Sox, Twins and Astros. They completed the 14-game stretch against those three at 12-2 with both losses to the Astros.
The four-day All-Star break begins today. The Rays return to action Friday in Toronto, where they begin a 10-game road trip that includes stops in Boston and New York.
The second-place Rays, who sit atop the American League wild-card standings, couldn't have scripted a better ending heading into the break.
"Us as a team, you want to play every day when you're winning games," Desmond Jennings said. "But it's a good time for us to take a few days off, rest up and come out with some energy in the second half."
Archer provided that energy Sunday. He held the Astros to five hits and struck out eight. He also did not walk a batter for the second straight start.
"He's been on a nice little roll," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "This is different. To pitch a complete-game shutout is different. To go six innings and leave and get a win, that's a nice thing. It's a wonderful thing. But a nine-inning shutout, when you teach yourself that lesson, the sky's the limit. That is like a glimpse into the future of what he is capable of."
Archer said he never pitched nine innings at any level. He said he'd like to do it again.
"Now I know what I'm capable of whenever I'm performing to my potential, so my bar is set even higher," he said.
Evan Longoria doubled home Jennings in the first inning for all the offensive support Archer would need.
The Rays added two runs in the fourth when Kelly Johnson, who singled, scored from first base when Astros pitcher Erik Bedard threw Jose Lobaton's bunt single up the right-field line. Lobaton scored to make it 3-0 when Jennings grounded into a double play.
Jennings finished the scoring with a two-run homer in the sixth.
After that, the day belonged to Archer.
"He was excellent," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "It was more about him than anything else."
And it could be more about Archer in a few weeks when Alex Cobb returns from the disabled list. Cobb, out since June 15 with a concussion, threw a round of live batting practice before Sunday's game.
Who goes when Cobb returns? Roberto Hernandez (5-10) would appear to be the odd man out. He could be moved to the bullpen to make room for Cobb.
"We're going to have to make the decision when it comes up," Maddon said. "But that's a nice decision to have."
Archer, who eventually replaced Price in the rotation when Price was on the disabled list, has pitched his way into a permanent spot in the rotation with his work during his past five starts — 3-0 with a 1.69 ERA.
He wasn't interested in answering questions about his future or Hernandez's on Sunday. Heck, Archer couldn't even put into words how he felt when Jennings chased down a line drive by Jason Castro at the wall to end the game.
"I was lost in the moment. I saw the ball didn't hit the ground, and then I got super excited," Archer said. "For me to put it into words would be an injustice."