The combination added up to give the Rays a 2-1 victory against Baltimore (34-27) on Friday as Tampa Bay (33-27) opened up a key 10-game homestand with a win to tighten the race in American League East with the top four teams now separated by 31/2 games.
In his second start since being called up, Archer (1-1) was dominant, allowing only two hits through seven innings, retiring 13 of the final 14 batters he faced before handing the game over to the bullpen. Joel Peralta tossed a scoreless eighth, while Fernando Rodney pitched a perfect ninth on nine pitches for his 13th save, striking out Chris Davis to end the game.
Jennings made sure Archer's outing was a success by belting a two-run home run to straightaway center field in the bottom of the seventh that turned the game around.
"Archer pitched well, he pitched his (tail) off," Jennings said. "Any time a pitcher goes out, especially against a team like (Baltimore) that hits as well as they do, and to keep them to one run, he played better than all of them tonight."
The outing was a solid rebound for Archer, who allowed five runs and seven hits — including two home runs — in four innings of work in his first start last Saturday in Cleveland. On Friday, he said he was locked in from the first pitch and found his only trouble of the night when he walked two in the top of the third before allowing a two-out RBI single to Manny Machado. After that base hit, Ryan Flaherty's two-out double in the fifth was the only base runner allowed by Archer.
"It was one of those special nights that you have to try to tap into every game," Archer said. "And I was able to tap into it from pitch one."
Rays manager Joe Maddon said he liked Archer's mound presence throughout the night, noticing how calm and in control the 24-year-old looked while facing a formidable Baltimore lineup. Archer was able to pitch a career-best seven innings, which is also the most he has pitched at any level this season, including 10 starts at Triple-A Durham.
"I was watching him very closely, and I never really saw him looking as if he was out of control," Maddon said. "So I wasn't surprised that he was able to get through those (tough moments), plus his fastball was really alive at home plate tonight. He had a good look about him, and I really felt he was going to pitch deep into the game."
Jennings, meanwhile, hit his home run deep to center field to pick up the only offense Archer needed to notch the victory. With Tampa Bay trailing by a run in the bottom of the seventh, James Loney led off with a single against Jason Hammel, who had retired eight in a row heading into the inning. Jennings then jumped on a first-pitch fastball that landed an estimated 432 feet away from home plate beyond the center-field fence.
It was a far cry from what Jennings contemplated as he made his way into the batter's box.
"I thought about bunting … and then I didn't," Jennings said. "I haven't been hitting the ball well … but I was going to give myself one pitch."
That one pitch turned everything around in an instant.
"Not many go there," Maddon said of Jennings' home run. "When you hit a home run to dead center field and you know it from the moment the ball is struck, you've hit it well here, and that was gone."
Rodney ensured it would stand up, tossing eight strikes on the nine pitches he threw, retiring the league-leading home run hitter Davis to secure his seventh-consecutive scoreless outing.
"That's a good sign for Rodney," Rodney said. "Maybe for everybody."