Remember when Chris Archer was an enigmatic rookie pitcher with great stuff but not nearly the results to boot? That wasn’t that long ago, but Archer’s latest run has made it seem like a vague memory you can’t even be sure is true. Archer delivered his 4th straight win with his best start yet as the Rays edged the Yankees 1-0.
Right from the start of the game, it was clear that something special was happening for Chris Archer. He retired the Yankees in order in the first three innings, tossing just 27 pitches total, and he rebounded from an Evan Longoria error with 1 out in the 4th by getting Robinson Cano to ground into a double play. Lyle Overbay ended the no-hit bid with the 5th inning single, but Archer just kept rolling. He allowed a 2-out double to Brett Gardner in the 6th, but that was it. Archer went the distance, allowing just those 2 hits in his 9 innings, striking out 6 while walking none. He threw just 97 pitches, 67 strikes, as he lowered his ERA to a puny 2.39. In his last 4 starts, he has allowed just 1 earned run in 31 innings pitched, allowing just 15 hits and 4 walks while striking out 17. Suddenly everything is clicking for Archer, and the Rays may have yet another top-of-the-rotation type of starter on their hands.
How did Archer keep the Yankees at bay in this game? The key was his slider. Archer never really got around to using his changeup in the game, throwing it just 4 times out of his 97 pitches according to Brooks Baseball, and he was able to get away with that thanks to an unhittable slider which he threw 40 times. Archer’s slider accounted for 7 of his 10 swings-and-misses and Yankees hitters went 0 for 13 against it total in the game. He threw it for a strike 31 out of 40 times (77.5%), an even higher ratio than his fastball, as he was able to use it as both a chase pitch and something he could spot in the zone to get ahead in the count and force weak contact. Archer was renowned throughout his time in the minor leagues for his ridiculous slider, and he we have seen since he has arrived in the major leagues how true the scouting reports were. On Saturday, though, his slider may have been as good as ever.
Yankees starter Ivan Nova didn’t make things easy for Archer as he tossed a great game himself. But the Rays finally got to him in the 6th inning. There were 2 outs and a runner on 1st when Matt Joyce worked a walk, and Kelly Johnson followed with a bloop single to plate the Rays’ only run. Archer was clinging to a one-run lead, but the way he was pitching, it might as well have been a 10-run cushion. The Rays’ offense, which has been so impressive this season, had an off-night as Nova shut them down except for that 6th inning. But the Rays went back to their traditional Rays formula of getting great pitching and just enough run support to find a way to win. Archer was incredible and that one run was all he needed to earn the victory. The Rays hope to finish the sweep at 1:05 PM on Sunday with Matt Moore matching up against Phil Hughes.