ST. PETERSBURG — Chris Archer's best delivery came after Wednesday's game.
The only-human frustration of once again pitching spectacularly well with ridiculously low run support had to be only intensified by a twist that could best be described as cruel.
Eight outs from a perfect game, and looking to both teams like he could get it, the Rays' All-Star ace instead ended up with an L in a 2-1 defeat to Detroit that was one of most damning of Tampa Bay's season.
His teammates failed him not only at the plate, again, but also in the field, where shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera's inexplicable error on a routine double-play grounder turned out to be the pivotal play, leading to the two unearned runs.
Yet Archer, showing maturity beyond his 26 years and 83 big-league games, insisted the blame should go nowhere but on himself, adamant he could have, and should have, done better.
"There are things I'm going to take away, but it has nothing to do with my successes. It has to do with making pitches in big situations and ways that I can improve," Archer said.
"To me, I didn't throw a perfect game or a no-hitter, so there's no reason to think, 'I was so close,' or, like, 'That was so awesome.' I gave up three hits in the seventh inning. If I wouldn't have done that, things would be a lot different. So that's what I'm focused on."
Elsewhere in the again quiet clubhouse, as the Rays dropped back under .500 at 51-52, other Rays felt for Archer.
"It just stinks," centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. "It's hard. I feel bad for Arch. We can't account for his great outings. We haven't been there for him all year. … We never give him run support. He goes out there and pitches his butt off each and every day. For us not to be able to get more than one run today was really tough."
Consider this: Wednesday was the eighth time this season Archer did not allow an earned run, but he has won only four of those games. And consider this: It was the 16th time he allowed two or fewer, and he has won only nine of those.
"You love to get those wins when he pitches, but this is very much a team-oriented thing," manager Kevin Cash said. "I know that he did everything he could, but he's as upset as anybody over the loss and nothing else than that."
Matched up with Justin Verlander in a noon matinee that drew a lively kids camp-boosted crowd of 28,057, Archer was dazzling from the start, retiring the first 19 Tigers, 10 by strikeout, in the longest bid for perfection in Rays franchise history.
In the visitors' dugout, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was looking back, comparing Archer's performance to what he saw on the wrong side of Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game in 1998. "It was as good of stuff as I've seen in a long time," Ausmus said.
In the home dugout, Cash was looking ahead to a very real possibility of what might happen. "He looked unhittable," Cash said.
Archer had a lead, 1-0, thanks to a Cabrera homer, which ended Verlander's streak of retiring the first 14 Rays.
He had the requisite great defense behind him, Cabrera making a great diving play at shortstop and Kiermaier an even better running one at the centerfield wall to keep the game perfect.
And he had eight outs to go for the greatest game he would ever throw, with the bonus of having the pitcher he most idolizes, David Price, watching from the other dugout and relishing an opportunity others shudder at.
And that's where it all went wrong.
Jose Iglesias' slow bouncer to the left side with one out in the seventh became the first hit, as Cabrera had just moved a step the other way after Archer fell behind 2-and-1 and thus was just late in getting the ball to first.
Then Yoenis Cespedes hit the ground ball Archer and the Rays would have ordered for the inning-ending double play only to have Cabrera, the third-best fielding shortstop in the majors, boot the ball, unable to get an out anywhere.
Cash would say later he'd bet Cabrera would make that play the next 100 times. Cabrera seemed sure of it.
"I was the one who (messed) up today," he said. "It was a perfect ground ball double play. The ball just came out of my glove. I tried to be too quick to make the double play."
Instead of being in the dugout with 86 pitches and a legit shot at history, Archer was in trouble on the mound. He got Victor Martinez on a flyout to left, but a ground ball single by J.D. Martinez scored the tying run, then a liner by Nick Castellanos off — who else? — Cabrera's glove put the Tigers ahead to stay 2-1. That ended Archer's day after 101 pitches, seven innings, three hits, 11 strikeouts and nothing but a loss on his 9-8, 2.54 record to show for it.
"That's the way baseball is," he said. "We play tremendous defense. Nobody's at fault. A hundred more times we'll have that play to Cabrera and it will be made. That's the one anomaly, and he's allowed to have that. He's been great for us all year. He probably has the highest fielding percentage out of any shortstop in the American League, so you know that that's so rare. When that happens, you're not upset at all."
And that's really saying something.
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.