If ever there was a team that needed it's ace to step up, it was the Rays right now.
Coming off two straight games where the bullpen had given up leads late, coming off the news that the team's best reliever will have knee surgery, and with the best overall pitcher coming off his worst start of the season, it would have been easy for the Rays to start doubting. I mean, most fans are ready to throw in the towel.
And the first inning wasn't promising. Chris Archer walked Jose Altuve on four pitches, and when the first pitch to Marwin Gonzalez also flew high and outside, Rene Rivera jumped out of his crouch and came to the mound to give a brief "settle down" talk. It seemed to work, as the next two pitches were in the zone, after which Archer put Gonzalez away swinging with a low slider nearly in the dirt.
So give some credit to Rivera for getting Archer back on the right track, and then also give credit to Rivera for the strikeout to Carlos Corrrea, because pitch six, the final pitch of the at bat, was not a strike.
Then with Colby Rasmus batting, Archer bounced a slider in front of the plate, and Altuve tried to advance to second. Rivera blocked the pitch, picked it off the ground, and threw Altuve out easily, ending the inning.
The first inning was Rene Rivera's, but that was all that Chris Archer needed. For the rest of the game, he was wholly in charge. Only one other Astros batter reached base. In the fifth inning, Colby Rasmus pulled a grounder through the shift. That was it.
I don't really know how to describe this outing, but the box score does a pretty good job.
Complete game, no runs, one walk, one hit, 11 strikeouts, on 98 pitches (43 fastballs, 42 sliders, 13 changeups). Nine ground balls. Two popups. Only 28 batters faced.
Between innings, Archer looked calm and supremely focused, going over scouting reports and plans for the next inning, and quietly visualizing what he was about to do. During innings he was methodical, understated, accurate, and just overall really, really good. Because that one ground ball found a hole, it was not a no-hitter, but this game had the look and feel of one.
The One Run
Archer only needed one run, which was convenient, because that's all he got. His opponent Collin McHugh also pitched well, hitting both sides of the plate with his fastball and cutter and moving his big, slow curve up and down through the strike zone.
McHugh started off the fourth inning by making a highlight-reel behind-the-back catch on a James Loney grounder up the middle. The next batter, Logan Forsythe, hit a foul ball to the edge of the stands in right field that Rasmus should probably have caught, and then gifted with new life, stung a hard grounder through the left side for a single.
With Asdrubal Cabrera batting, Forsythe took off running for second, but slipped as he tried to break, and had to retreat back to first base. That was probably a lucky pitch, because the pitch he had chosen to run on turned out to be a high fastball, which is the next best thing to a pitchout.
Forsythe was able to advance to second on a wild pitch (a curve in the dirt), and then came home when Desmond Jennings flared a single off the end of his bat into short right field.
Archer made it stick.
Some other notes:
- In the bottom of the third inning, the Sun Sports camera crew found a very excellent mustache. BA: "You could do pullups on that thing." Staats: "He had to have that size of hat to protect it from the rain."
- The Rays threatened in the third inning, loading the bases with two outs. Longoria just got under the next pitch, though, flying it high and to the very base of the wall in left.
- The final out in the top of the fourth inning was weird. McHugh slipped and fell off the mound during his delivery. He still threw the pitch, and somehow managed to flutter a lame duck over the plate. Kevin Kiermaier swung, but the whole delivery was weird enough and slow enough that he was out in front, and the result was a soft grounder back to the stumbling McHugh. It reminded me of research on how baseball players are not reacting to what they see in the most obvious way, but are reading subtle clues in the opposing pitchers' body well before the ball is released. In this case, there was nothing for Kiermaier to read.
- In the fourth inning, Chris Archer notched his 200th strikeout, getting Jose Altuve swinging on a slider away. Archer becomes the fourth pitcher in Rays history to reach that mark (the other three are Scott Kazmir, James Shields, and David Price).
- In the sixth inning, Preston Tucker bounced one weekly down the third base line. Archer came off the mound to field, and it seemed like a play that might be trouble, but Archer set his feet and fired a fastball strike to Loney to get Tucker by a step. Very nice throw.
- The next time Archer faced Tucker, it was another tapper back to the mound, and this time Archer's throw was less good. It brought Loney's arm well into the path of the runner, but luckily there was plenty of time and Tucker wasn't actually near enough to the bag yet for the throw to cause a problem.
- Carlos Gomez hit three fly balls that weren't especially deep, but man were they all high. The guy swings hard.
- Carlos Correa looks like one heck of a player.
- Yesterday, Asdrubal Cabrera struck out three times. Today, I wrote about how he's lowered his strikeout rate in the second half of the season. Today he struck out four times. I'm sorry.
- The Yankees, Orioles, and Texans all lost. The Angels are down 2-1 in the fifth inning right now. Losing McGee was a huge blow, but with performances like this from Archer, this season actually isn't over, strangely enough.
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