ST. PETERSBURG — The urge to feel some burden from a newly minted fortune would be only natural for anyone, much less a thoughtful and insightful 25-year-old pitching in the major leagues without even a full season of experience to draw on.
But Chris Archer didn't let it enter his mind.
Not when his parents got to town to add to the flow of congratulations for the new contract, announced Wednesday, that guarantees him $25.5 million over six years. Not when a random man ID'd him during lunch Thursday asking for a cut. And certainly not when he was on the mound against the Blue Jays, his strong outing, plus a franchise-record-tying home run by Evan Longoria, leading the Rays to a 7-2 win and a split of their season-opening series.
"Never thought about it," Archer said. "That's a part of me trying to strengthen myself mentally so the outside factors don't affect me when I'm in between the lines."
Archer wasn't overly dominant or particularly dazzling. But he hung three zeroes as his mates took a 4-0 lead, then bounced back after a fourth-inning bout with passiveness cost him two runs to finish strong, allowing four hits and striking out seven over six solid innings.
"I saw really confident ," manager Joe Maddon said. "There was never any panic in him, even when they got a couple points. I liked his whole demeanor. I thought it was very professional. I didn't see any adverse effect of this new signing."
Longoria knew what it was like, having signed a couple of big deals of his own.
"I know both of the ones that I've been able to sign, I went out there a little more nervous," he said. "For him, being a pitcher, it's different. You only get one opportunity every five days to go out there and do what they do. So I think (his performance) really speaks to his maturity as an individual and why the organization was so eager to make a deal happen with him, and ultimately why it happened. And I think he went out there and proved it tonight."
Archer had some help, though not many were there to see it, the Tropicana Field gathering of 9,571 (smallest since April 2012) making the total attendance for the three days after the sold-out opener 31,492.
Shortstop Yunel Escobar (in talks with the Rays for his own extension) made a diving, run-saving play. New catcher Ryan Hanigan made his first Rays hit count, driving in the first run. David DeJesus scored twice in his return to duty after a Monday foot injury. Longoria hit a three-run homer that was the Rays' first of the season and his 163rd, matching Carlos Peña's team career high. And Joel Peralta got four outs on just 16 pitches, lightening the load for the rest of the bullpen.
Archer started well, showing no signs of any burden and quite a bit of the promise the Rays saw in making the massive investment, which could reach $43.75 million over eight years. Maddon was impressed with how he came back after allowing the two runs, raising his velocity and his intensity.
Archer, crediting the defense and the run support, insisted he can do better. But just because he can.
"It's just baseball," he said. "I'm here to have fun. I'm here to execute. And I was able to do that tonight, with no other thoughts."