MINNEAPOLIS — The Rays had put Chris Archer on notice, making it known they were watching their 24-year-old rookie closely to see how he would handle both the physical and mental aspects of pitching in his first significant September.
Archer showed them on Friday he could do just fine, thank you, as the Rays won their second straight game, a 3-0 victory over the Twins.
Archer worked six innings, allowing only three singles, struck out seven, showed off a good fastball and what he said was his best-ever changeup, believing he answered any questions his bosses may have had.
"Yeah," Archer said, "I think so."
Obviously, manager Joe Maddon liked what he saw. "There were no warning signs," he said. "He did not come out of his delivery. The fastball command was there. And he didn't have that really hurried look about him. That's what I was watching for."
Archer got just enough help from the offense that is still misfiring. Yunel Escobar had three hits, and Desmond Jennings and James Loney had one big one apiece. And Archer got help from the relief trio of Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney, who fittingly, as bullpen catcher Scott Cursi pointed out, threw 13 pitches each on Friday the 13th.
Making the result more rewarding, the Rays (80-66) gained ground both ways in the crowded American League wild-card race. By the end of the night, the Rays, who have 16 games remaining, were one game behind the Rangers for the top spot and increased their margin for the second, leading the Indians by 1½ games, the Yankees by two, the Orioles by 2½ and the Royals by 3½.
Archer had lasted only 3 2/3 and four innings in his previous two starts, raising the question if he was maxed out. He came into Friday's start having thrown a career-most 160 innings, including 110 with the Rays; his previous high was 1571/3 last year.
"I know that he does his work, the mental and physical component, and that he's really a great student," Maddon said. "The biggest concern is the fact that he's never pitched this much into the season, whether it's number of innings or with the magnitude of the games. So I just really want to eye him up because our intent is to play deep into October and that he's well."
Archer insists he is fine, understanding of the team's short- and long-term concerns. But he also is ready, willing and able to remain a key contributor.
"No doubt," he said. "I feel confident about that."
The Rays believed they could carry forth some momentum from Thursday's 4-3 win over the Red Sox, and there appeared to be a carryover when Wil Myers lined a ball to right with two outs and it went off the glove of Clete Thomas, was scored a double and Jennings cashed it in with a single.
The Rays expanded the lead to 2-0 the next inning with a two-out hit, as Escobar doubled, moved to third on a fly ball and scored on Loney's single.
They stretched it to 3-0 in the seventh, taking advantage of another misplay. Jose Molina doubled and came around to score when Escobar's hard-hit grounder bounced off the glove of diving second baseman Brian Dozier.
But the Rays also made their own mistakes, none worse than after getting the one run in the seventh. They had men on first and third with no outs, but got nothing else. Ben Zobrist not only didn't get a bunt down, but popped it up, and Escobar was too aggressive coming off third, making it a double play. Then David DeJesus got picked off first.
"We definitely topped it off with the trifecta of messing up a particular inning," Maddon said.
But again showing how their vibe may have changed, on this night, that wasn't that big a deal.