NEW YORK — Chris Archer had already had an eventful Saturday afternoon, throwing a dazzling two-hitter to beat the Yankees 1-0, but there was more he had to do on the field.
Catcher Jose Molina was there to shake hands. The other starters were coming out for the group jump they've been doing often to celebrate complete games. Todd Kalas was waiting for a TV interview, and radio guys Andy Freed and Dave Wills were set up to talk via a headset in the dugout.
But Archer had been in command all day, and he wanted to get with the Ray he considers most important to his rapid progress, David Price. They embraced warmly behind the mound, they talked briefly, and they reflected.
"There weren't many words exchanged," Archer said. "It was just a moment, a feeling. (Price is) somebody I've looked up to as far as a baseball player since I was 18.
"We just stood there, and I was like, 'I'm just following your lead.' And he was just, like, with a big smile on his face."
Archer's 97-pitch masterpiece, the second complete-game shutout in his past three starts and the first by a Ray against the Yankees, was just the latest reason for their postgame good times.
Well, that, and the well-versed Archer's failed attempt to describe how he felt in one word: "Stupendously amazing."
The Rays have won nine of their past 10, 17 of 19 and 24 of 29, are sitting atop the American League East at 62-42 and are on a pace for 97 wins.
Improved pitching is the reason for their turnaround — they were in last place and six games behind Boston on June 23 — with Price's July 2 return from the disabled list the impetus and Archer, a 24-year-old rookie, the biggest benefactor.
"We thought he was good, we knew he was good, but to do what he's doing now is a little bit more than that," manager Joe Maddon said.
"I've watched 'Archie,' and I know how Archie is. He's definitely a learner. He wants to be taught. He's going to keep an open mind. He's going to watch. So I think more than anybody, Archie has been impacted by David and what he's done."
Archer and Price met during offseason workouts at Vanderbilt sometime after Price was the top pick in the 2007 draft and Archer was beginning his pro career in the Indians' system, and Archer's admiration and appreciation for the friendship Price extended has only grown. So with the chance to be teammates with Price, after trades to the Cubs and then Rays, Archer has made it clear how much he wants to be like Price.
Even to a point, he joked Saturday, of excess: "Well," Archer said, "his last game, he threw nine innings and 97 pitches …"
Price was clearly proud of his protege, saying on Twitter on Saturday night: "WOW..that @ChrisArcher42 guy is pretty good!!! What a start by him on the biggest stage in baseball!!"
As sharp as Archer was — mixing a nasty slider with a 97-98 mph fastball, retiring the first 10 batters until an Evan Longoria error, taking a no-hitter into the fifth and not walking any — there was a chance it wouldn't be enough. New York's Ivan Nova was equally tough.
The Rays got their only run in the sixth. Ben Zobrist reached on a fielder's choice grounder, stole second and scored on a bloop single by Kelly Johnson, who was in the lineup only because Luke Scott was out with a stiff back.
Archer didn't need any help. He admitted he peeked to see that Joel Peralta had been warming in the eighth and Fernando Rodney in the ninth but was determined after the exhilaration of his first complete game July 14 — and further focused after a chat last week with Curt Schilling — to finish off a game again.
Maddon could only rave about how Archer's development and maturation have accelerated in recent weeks.
"He was this (overall performance) waiting to happen," Maddon said. "He absolutely was."
And with a 4-0 record and a 0.73 ERA in five starts since Price came back, and a 6-3, 2.39 mark overall, just how good can Archer be?
"Can he become better than he was (Saturday)?" catcher Jose Molina said. "We just have to wait and see. If he does what he did today for 20 years, I guess we're going to have a Hall of Famer."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]
Some of Chris Archer's notable accomplishments Saturday:
. The first rookie to shut out the Yankees by a 1-0 score since Brewers LHP Ted Higuera on Oct. 2, 1985, and the first rookie to shut out the Yankees in New York since Orioles LHP Arthur Rhodes on July 29, 1992.
. The third pitcher 24 or younger to throw a complete-game shutout against the Yankees in New York over the past 20 years, joining Mariners RHP Felix Hernandez (2-hitter, June 30, 2010) and Red Sox LHP Jon Lester (5-hitter, July 3, 2008).
. The third rookie in the past 32 years to beat the Yankees twice at home in a season, joining Orioles RHP Miguel Gonzalez (2012) and Angels RHP Mike Butcher (1982).
. The second pitcher, since Baseball Reference pitch-count data is complete (1999), to throw a complete-game shutout against the Yankees on fewer than 100 pitches; the other was Rangers LHP Derek Holland, who did it one month ago today in a 2-hitter at Yankee Stadium.