HOUSTON — Chris Archer's Thursday night on the Minute Maid Park mound didn't begin well, a four-pitch walk to leadoff man Jose Altuve that flashed back to the struggles in his previous outing.
But Archer's night couldn't have ended better, celebrating his complete-game one-hitter in the Rays' 1-0 victory over the Astros in a group jump with three other starting pitchers.
"It felt awesome,'' Archer said. "There's really no better feeling than when you accomplish your goals, and it happens so infrequently. It's exhilarating.''
A Rays pitcher hadn't thrown a complete game in nearly a year, since Drew Smyly's gem at Toronto on Aug. 22, 2014, the 154 games in between the longest running streak by an American League team.
But the Rays (60-61) needed Archer's masterful performance for more than a historic significance, coming off back-to-back extra-inning walkoff losses that taxed their bullpen and the news that top lefty reliever Jake McGee needed knee surgery and would miss most of, and potentially all of, the rest of the season.
Manager Kevin Cash praised Archer for responding to the situation with his 98 pitch, 11-strikeout masterpiece.
"It was kind of like an ace knowing what we were faced up against with our bullpen being stretched out the last two nights and he kind of took the game on his shoulders and really delivered,'' Cash said. "We needed that game.''
Archer, coming off a rough last outing Saturday against the Rangers, allowing 11 hits and eight runs (seven earned) while lasting only 5? innings, said he was well aware.
"I'm human, so I thought about the fact that our bullpen needed to breathe a little bit,'' he said. "It was either get 130 pitches and go six or seven, or go eight or nine and give everybody a complete blow. Yeah, I thought about it. I didn't let it really affect how I was pitching, I pitched normal, with the same mentality, but I knew that was going to be important.''
After the leadoff walk (erased by Rene Rivera catching Altuve trying to steal second), Archer retired 11 straight. That got him to the fifth with a no-hitter, but he allowed a leadoff single to Colby Rasmus, who grounded an 0-and-1 pitch to right. Then Archer retired the final 15 to finish the third complete game of his career, with the Rays bullpen not even stirring, and Cash — who has had a quick hook much of the season — saying, "It was going to be his ball game.''
Archer reached another milestone, his sixth strikeout getting him to 200 for the season, joining Scott Kazmir (team-record 239 in 2007), David Price (2011-12) and James Shields (2011-12) as the only Rays to do so.
The Rays got their only run in the fourth, Desmond Jennings singling in Logan Forsythe, who took advantage for the second straight night of a second chance at-bat when his foul ball drifted just into the stands and out of Rasmus' reach in right. He singled on the next pitch, went to second on a Collin McHugh wild pitch and came around on Jennings' two-out, two-strike single.
Add in some excellent pitch-calling by Rivera and dazzling defense all around the field. Then all it took was Jake Odorizzi explaining to Erasmo Ramirez and Nathan Karns what to do when they got to the mound, and Archer's night was complete.