HOUSTON — Rays right-hander Chris Archer said he simply didn't execute enough pitches in Saturday's 7-3 loss to the Astros, his shortest outing of the season.
The catch that Archer didn't make proved just as costly, paving the way for the deciding five-run third-inning rally.
"We played good enough to win," Archer said. "It just happened where one-third of an inning, I didn't do my job."
Archer was nearly out of a jam unscathed, with Marwin Gonzalez stranded at third after Jonathan Villar lined out to second for the second out. The inning should have ended, with the Rays up 1-0, when speedy leadoff man Dexter Fowler hit a grounder to the right of first baseman James Loney. But Archer, racing to cover first, dropped Loney's low toss and lost his balance, allowing Gonzalez to score and Fowler to reach safely.
"I should have made that play," Archer said. "I work on my fielding, work on those plays in spring training countless times."
Said manager Joe Maddon: "That's the play we normally should make."
Then the wheels fell off for Archer. He hit George Springer on the left shoulder with a pitch, then walked Jon Singleton to load the bases. Archer fell behind Jason Castro 3-and-0 before walking in a run on a 3-and-2 count. Two pitches later, Archer hung a slider and Matt Dominguez crushed it off the left-centerfield wall for a three-run double, making it 5-1.
"That was a really big play," Maddon said.
It was the kind of two-out rally Archer had avoided during his recent string of success, having entered Saturday with a 0.87 ERA in his previous five starts. But after lasting six innings in four straight starts, Archer was pulled one batter into the fourth, having allowed six runs (one earned) on three hits and three walks in 74 pitches. Maddon said Archer never looked comfortable: "I just didn't see him settling down."
Archer admitted he was frustrated after his third-inning error but said it was no excuse for what happened next, and he had plenty of time to recover. "I had so many opportunities to get out and I didn't," he said. "I wasn't as sharp as I wanted to be. It's a learning experience. I could have done much better."
The loss snapped a two-game winning streak for the Rays (26-43), who wrap up the series today before opening a 10-game homestand Monday.
The Rays offense, coming off back-to-back six-run games, started off quickly Saturday, with the first of two doubles by rookie Kevin Kiermaier and an RBI single by Evan Longoria. But right-hander Jarred Cosart, who dominated Tampa Bay in his big-league debut last year, held the Rays in check until Longoria's two-run homer in the fifth.
Maddon acknowledged the loss continued to make his goal of reaching 50-50 "much more difficult," considering they'd have to go 24-7 to complete the feat. But it starts by winning a series today, something they haven't done since their May 23-25 sweep of the Red Sox.
"If we can continue to do that the rest of the year," Longoria said, "I like our chances."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.