On July 14th, in the Rays’ last game before the All-Star Break, we got to see Chris Archer finally have everything click. With an overbearing fastball, a devastating slider, and even a changeup that befuddled hitters, Archer nailed down his first career complete game, holding the Astros to just 5 hits in his 9 innings and striking out 8 while walking none. For one start, Archer was exactly the Rays always knew he had the ability to be. But even if Archer has finally turned the corner, every start will not be like that. On Sunday, Archer showed that even when his stuff isn’t at his best, he has the ability to be plenty effective and help the Rays battle to victory.
Archer retired the Blue Jays in order in the first inning. It would be his last perfect inning of the game. The Blue Jays took the lead against him in the 2nd, with Josh Thole drilling a 2-out RBI double to make it a 1-0 game. Archer has certainly had his struggles this season, and it looked like he might be primed for an up-and-down outing. But from the rest of the game saw Archer play the bend-not-break game to perfection. For the next 3 innings, Archer worked around a baserunner each frame to pitch 1-run ball through the 6th. In the 6th, though, Archer finally got into his first real jam since the 2nd. A hit batsman and a walk to begin the inning put the tying run at the plate for the Blue Jays in a 4-1 game. A 2-out walk to Thole meant that Archer was one out away from escaping the jam–but also one big hit away from putting the Rays behind. But Archer came through in the clutch, forcing Brett Lawrie to pop out, and he faced the minimum in the 7th thanks to a double play off the bat of Jose Bautista to finish his outing. Archer walked 4 while striking out just 1 in his 7 innings, but that was the only thing you could complain about. He allowed just 1 run on 5 hits, giving the Rays exactly the type of outing they were hoping for. His slider wasn’t nearly as sharp as usual and his changeup was almost a non-entity, but he left the game in line for his 5th win and a satisfying one at that.
The Rays finally got Archer a run in the 4th inning when Evan Longoria slammed his 20th homer on an opposite-field laser off R.A. Dickey to tie the game at 1. More fireworks were in store in the 6th. With 1 out and a runner on, Luke Scott got a knuckleball up from Dickey and didn’t miss it, slamming a go-ahead 2-run homer to make it 3-1 Rays. Dickey’s next knuckleball also stayed up, and Johnson drilled a solo homer into the second deck in right to make it 4-1. Dickey didn’t make a ton of mistakes in his 6 innings of work. But when he did, Rays hitters made sure to capitalize. It was a sharp contrast between the Toronto’s frustration with runners in scoring position (2 for 14 for the game) and the Rays seemingly seizing every opportunity they had. If they had missed even one, the entire game could have been different.
Jamey Wright came on for the 8th with both Joel Peralta and Jake McGee unavailable and proceeded to have a great inning, striking out 2 while working around a hit to keep the Jays at bay. It was just Wright’s second hold of the year as Joe Maddon has tried to keep him to more low-leverage spots, but Maddon may have a little more confidence putting him in a clutch situation next time after just how good he pitched. Fernando Rodney, though, was a different story.
Entering the game with a 3-run lead, Rodney got off to a nightmarish start, walking Thole and allowing a Brett Lawrie single before Jose Reyes made it a 4-3 game with a 2-run double. It seemed like all the Rays’ heroics were about to go to waste. But Rodney rebounded to strike out Jose Bautista and force Edwin Encarnacion to ground out and they were one out away. However, a two-out walk to Adam Lind and a steal of second base by pinch-runner Rajai Davis put the Jays one single away from a walk-off. But Rodney got Melky Cabrera to ground out to Evan Longoria to end the game as the Rays won 4-3 and finished up a sweep. It was not the way they would have wanted to finish, but they just kept it together and found a way to win. And because of that win, they will enter their 3-game series with the Red Sox no more than 1.5 games back of Boston (they’re 1 game back pending the Sunday night Yankees-Red Sox game) as they head to Boston for what will be a battle for first place in the AL East. Matt Moore takes the ball for the opener as the Rays hope to culminate their unbelievable run of the last three weeks with their first taste of first place since April 6th.