ST. PETERSBURG — Rookie right-hander Chris Archer messed up the last time the Rays rotation did its celebratory shoulder bump, jumping late in a pile that commemorated ace David Price's complete game July 7.
Archer said he and Price were talking about that on Sunday morning when the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner made a prescient prediction.
"He said, 'You're going to get another chance to do it in four hours,' " Archer recalled.
The 24-year-old did just that, throwing his first career complete game in a 5-0 win over the Astros on Sunday in front of 21,180 at Tropicana Field that brought the Rays within 2½ games of the East-leading Red Sox. As centerfielder Desmond Jennings raced near the warning track to catch the final out, Archer leaped into the air and then pumped his fist, saying afterward that no words could do his emotions justice.
And much like Archer was during his 112-pitch masterpiece, he was right on target in the celebration, shoulder-to-shoulder with the staff, feeling like he was on the top of the world.
"This is the best game I've ever pitched in my life," he said. "It means everything."
Archer had never reached the ninth inning at any level until Sunday, when the continued progression of his calmness and command culminated in a five-hitter. He has said his goal is to be like Price and that he learned a lot from the pitch efficiency and strike-throwing the ace displayed during his back-to-back complete games. Then Archer mimicked Price with his second straight game with no walks, striking out eight, thanks to his best fastball command all year.
"He wants to be like that, and he can be like that, because he's got the stuff," manager Joe Maddon said. "He's got all the ability to be as good as you saw (Sunday) on a consistent basis."
Archer ensured the Rays (55-41) finished the first half on a high note. Tampa Bay has won 14 of its past 16 games, including the 9-1 homestand that gave them a club-record-matching 55 wins before the All-Star break. Sunday's win also moved them atop the wild-card standings, percentage points ahead of Texas.
"We've been, for the most part, hitting on all cylinders," said Price, who starts Friday at Toronto when the break ends. "And if we can do that, we have a scary team."
Archer continued the pitching staff's roll of 15 consecutive quality starts, a club record. The Rays gave him more than enough support, with Evan Longoria's RBI double in the first and Jennings' two-run homer in the sixth. They played strong defense, with a few more dazzling plays by shortstop Yunel Escobar.
But this was Archer's moment. Maddon said because his pitcher didn't seem to have any "stressful" innings, never allowing a runner past second, the manager believed Archer could finish.
Thanks to Archer's recent roll, Maddon acknowledged the team will have a tough decision when Alex Cobb (concussion) is ready to return, but it's a "good problem to have."
Meanwhile, Maddon said Archer's complete game could be a huge growth moment, open a lot of doors mentally and propel him to new heights.
"I know what I'm capable of whenever I'm performing to my potential," Archer said. "So my bar is set even higher."