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Rays 5, Orioles 15: Playing the long con

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You thought it was just another frustrating night, but alas, you were wrong

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Spoiler Alert (and not about the baseball game): If you have not seen the endings of any classic Hollywood con man/con woman movies, you may want to skip this recap, or at least not watch the videos embedded.

Somewhere during the bottom of the fourth inning, it struck me. Chris Archer is in on this.

* * *

Chris Archer has had a rather frustrating 2018 season. He now owns a 4.31 ERA, and he is under-performing his FIP for the fourth straight season.

His last two outings have been quality starts, but he has lacked a certain pizzazz this season (irony of his last outing including 13 strikeouts, noted, but it really just doesn’t have the same feel when it comes with three runs and eight hits against the Marlins attached to it). Part of this is the curse of “ace expectations” that Archer demanded with his killer 2013-2015 stretch. But many Rays fans will tell you, at least the ones who can’t entirely remove feelings from the equation, that Archer just hasn’t quite been on it all year.

It’s almost as if something is up.

* * *

All year, and really the past few years, there have been near-constant Chris Archer trade rumors. Despite the fact that the Rays have team control for another two and a half years at an insanely good value for one of the best pitchers in baseball (yes, even despite the frustration he can cause, that comes with the near-ace territory), it seems as though every team in baseball has been linked to a possible Chris Archer trade.

Archer knows this. He’s aware of it. And he wants to stay in Tampa Bay, both by what he has said publicly and also for the premise of the rest of this article. He knows that the team is right on the precipice of unloading arguably the best farm system in baseball onto the pro level and seeing what they’ve got. He was here through the rough 2016 campaign, but now he’s here for the sneaky-strong 2018 season (after tonight, we may not still be sixth in the Base Runs standings, but we’re close), and he wants to be here for the Rays-aissance on the horizon.

That’s why he’s doing his best to undermine his trade value with a 4.31 ERA and outings that undoubtedly frustrate scouts as much as they frustrate Rays fan. (Well, maybe not quite as much.)

When he does something like give up the tying run in the bottom of the first after Kevin Kiermaier and the Rays took the lead in the top half, it’s because he’s seen The Sting, and he’s Robert Redford (Erik Neander is Paul Newman — you’re welcome).

Picture the Braves, Cardinals, A’s, and any other rumored trade partner as the gangster being dragged out of the room above.

“But my future playoff ace is in there!”

“There’s a 4.31 ERA in there, and he just gave up four runs to the Orioles. You can’t get mixed up in that.”

But Archer knows.

When he hangs an 0-2 slider to Jonathan Schoop and sees it deposited into the left-field bleachers, he’s Rusty Ryan playing Terry Benedict like a fiddle.

When he sees his career win-loss record at Camden Yards slip to 2-7, he reacts like Bobby D schooling a fresh-faced Edward Norton (ironically wearing an Orioles hat) in The Score.

When he sees Marc Topkin firing off trade-bait tweets about whether this was his last outing in a Rays uniform, he laughs to himself, but on the outside, he has to play it like Barbara Stanwyck’s Jean Harrington looking to fleece Charles Pike:

(That’s right, Archer is a film buff.)

But inside, he knows he only helping to increase the odds he’s here when the Rays make their run as a real contender (as early as 2019).

While it may frustrate fans that Archer isn’t quite where he needs to be for the Rays to be real contenders, he knows they’re as close as a year away. And he wants to be around when that transformation happens. To squeeze one more movie reference in here, he’s Heath Ledger’s Joker letting you know he’s in on it.

At least that’s the only possible explanation that makes sense.

(For the record, “Austin Pruitt, Friday night being one of THOSE GAMES, and some sloppy mental mistakes” were far more to blame for the loss than Archer, but there’s no way tonight’s recap was going to be anything non-Archer-related. He’s the story though Wednesday. And yes, this entire piece was tongue-in-cheek. I shouldn’t have to say it, but I don’t want to get called an Archer hater again… Here are some Carlos-Gomez-pitching gifs for your troubles:

His multi-balk outing was the only happy part of the night.)