ST. PETERSBURG — Chris Archer allowed a single to Jacoby Ellsbury on the second pitch of Friday's game, then walked Brett Gardner on five pitches. Two on, no out and the meat of the Yankees' order waiting to hit. Not an ideal start to the night.
Yet, as things turned out, it was one of Archer's better nights this season — maybe even the best, though the final scored showed the Yankees winning 4-1 at Tropicana Field.
Archer (3-6, 4.62 ERA) allowed only one earned run and pitched eight innings for his longest outing since Aug. 20, when he threw a one-hit shutout at Houston.
"I thought 'Arch' definitely (took) a step in the right direction," Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
"More than a step," Archer said. "Leaps and bounds. Not even result-oriented, just the fact that … I felt like myself, and a lot of the starts this year, even when I put up some zeroes, I didn't feel quite like myself, but (Friday) I felt like myself. (Cash) said 'step,' but I would use the word 'leap.' "
Archer pitched himself out of the first-inning jam, then sailed through the next four innings. He did so by working quickly, getting ahead of hitters and going with the fastball-changeup combo. He didn't pull the slider out of his pocket until he was 40 pitches into the game.
"You have to get creative when you play these teams," Archer said. "The whole season my changeup's felt really good, so when they stack guys against you where your changeup is a more effective weapon, you use that more frequently, and that allows you, if you're fortunate to get deep in the game, to pull out that third pitch and mix things up."
The Rays (21-25) have lost four straight and six of seven. This loss, though, couldn't be pinned on a poor outing by the starting pitcher. It could be blamed on shoddy defense.
Archer walked Gardner on four pitches with one out in the sixth. His throwing error on a pickoff attempt and a fielding error by second baseman Taylor Motter helped the Yankees to their first run. Alex Rodriguez then made it a 3-0 game with a 440-foot home run to centerfield.
"If you give a team extra outs, it can be costly," Archer said, "especially with the way (Masahiro) Tanaka's throwing."
Tanaka was nearly unhittable. He retired his first 12 batters and allowed just two hits in seven innings.
So Archer was pitching with little margin for error. That it took two errors to change the game instead of a rough first inning or two was a step — or a leap — forward.
"I just liked the fact (Archer) threw more strikes," Cash said. "The fastball was better located, threw some good changeups. I just thought his overall demeanor was better or was good."