TORONTO — Chris Archer gave David Price a hug as they met up in centerfield while getting loose before Saturday's marquee matchup of current and former Rays aces and told him, "Let's have some fun." Price, now leading the playoff-bound Blue Jays staff, answered, as he often does, "Believe it."
But what unfolded in what ended up a 10-8 Toronto victory was hard to believe, Archer lasting only 32/3 innings and Price five as the usually dynamic duo combined to allow 14 runs on 16 hits and six walks.
"I would've said you were absolutely crazy if you would've told me that before the game," Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. "When two guys like this go against each other, you think it's going to be a pitchers' duel and each guy is going to go seven, eight innings plus. … What a weird game."
Archer, who undoubtedly has had better birthdays than his 27th turned out Saturday, was off-kilter from the start, allowing a three-run homer to Jose Bautista and a two-run shot to Russell Martin before he recorded his second out in his messy 33-pitch first inning.
Afterward, Archer insisted it was the lack of command of his fastball that was the problem, not control of his emotions from pitching for the first time against his close friend and mentor.
"After (the pregame moment), I got to warming up, (had a) great bullpen, I didn't even have time to think about anything other than trying to execute pitches, honestly," he said.
"No, the matchup didn't bother me. I faced great pitchers before. Guys that I know, maybe not as well as him. But it had no bearing on my performance today."
The disappointment was obvious as Archer detailed one of the worst days he has had on the mound, allowing a career high-matching nine runs on 10 hits and five walks and throwing 100 pitches to get 11 outs.
"Not one of my best days across the board," he said. "It stinks because I like to give the team a lot better performance."
The loss dropped Archer to 12-13 and hiked his ERA from 2.92 to 3.26. The toll of his breakout season seems to be showing as he has won just twice in his past 10 starts and, of more relevance, has posted a 5.09 ERA over that stretch.
Rays manager Kevin Cash discounted any thought of fatigue and indicated Archer would make a 34th start during the final week of the season. But Archer's choice of words was interesting, as he said Saturday's rough start provided impetus to keep improving "as soon as I touch a baseball again."
As much as Archer struggled, it wasn't all his fault as the Rays dropped to 75-80 and back to the brink of last place in the American League East.
They let a pop-up drop between three of them in shallow right-center that led to a run in the third, and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera teamed with second baseman Logan Forsythe to not turn a double play in the fourth that led to two more runs. Given how the Rays rallied for three in the ninth and had the tying run on base, the day could have actually worked out.
"You look at the final score and how the game just ended right there, and obviously there's a couple plays we would like to have back," Cash said.
Price had bigger things to talk about than the specifics of the game, as what was supposed to be a genteel champagne toast of the Jays formally clinching their first playoff berth since 1993 erupted into a full wet-and-wild clubhouse celebration.
But, noting that he had lost to the Rays the first two times he faced them after his trade to the Tigers, Price said, essentially, that the bad days happen, noting he allowed five runs (four earned) and lasted only six innings.
"That's the way it goes, man," Price said. "My last two starts against these guys haven't gone the way I wanted them to. If I'm going to give up five, I want it to be on a day where we score 10, so that was good."
Archer saw it slightly differently.
"It (stinks)," he said. "It wasn't my day by any means."
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.