MIAMI — Pitching four absolutely perfect innings for Team USA in Friday's 3-2 10-inning World Baseball Classic opening win over Colombia was a dazzlingly impressive feat for Rays starter Chris Archer.
But it was what happened in the dugout after that fourth inning that was most challenging.
In control and command from the start with a blazing fastball and nasty slider, Archer retired the 12 batters he faced with just 41 pitches, well under the WBC limit of 65 for first-round games.
But the Rays had requested he work no more than four innings — up-downs, which they track as much as pitches — in what was his third start of the spring, even if he were under his pitch limit. So when Team USA pitching coach Jeff Jones inquired, despite how well he had done, Archer — deciding it best not to go rogue — said he had to abide by the agreement he made with his bosses before the tournament.
"There may have been a little bit of miscommunication, but they came up to me and said, 'What's the deal?' And I said, 'I've got to stick with the Rays' protocol,' " Archer said. "It was tough, trust me. If it was 55 pitches, or even 50, it would've been a lot easier."
U.S. manager Jim Leyland made it sound like the limit caught them by surprise and left them "in a little bit of a bind" in trying to win, but he acknowledged he has a responsibility to the teams as well.
"He had a situation with his organization. ... If he got through four innings, that was going to be it. He was going to pitch four innings. So, we were hoping maybe he could have gone a little bit longer. I guess he could have, but once he got to four innings in, that was going to be it,'' Leyland said.
"I got a lot of responsibility here, and he said that the organization they talked to him. He was going to pitch four innings. That's what he told us in the dugout. ... We're not going to take any chances. As I told you, it wasn't his fault. He did an unbelievable, fabulous job."
Archer said what made it tougher was that after he left the game and was in the bullpen throwing another 15-18 pitches to get all his work in, Orioles reliever Mychal Givens, the Tampa product, gave up two runs.
"Honestly when I came out of the game and the momentum shifted there for a second, I was not very happy," Archer said.
The night had a happy ending, as the U.S. team, after being no-hit into the sixth by White Sox ace Jose Quintana, tied it in the sixth then won it in the 10th on a walkoff single by Baltimore's Adam Jones, scoring Miami's Christian Yelich, who had walked.
Overall, Archer said the night couldn't have gone any better as he proudly took the mound wearing the white uniform (No. 4, since his 22 was taken by Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen) with blue socks and sleeves, red accents and USA rippling across the chest.
"It was definitely a special moment," he said. "I haven't started in a postseason game in my career, and the last time I played in the postseason was four years ago (2013). So, to go out there and have that type of atmosphere, honestly, I got chill bumps four or five times before the game, just like kind of thinking to myself, 'Is this real?'
"Wearing 'USA' across my chest and representing for the country, and most importantly the look on my parents' face when I was walking in, just knowing what they did for me growing up, it's like the American story: Anything's possible."
Archer was at the top of his game, hitting 97 mph with his fastball several times and mixing in his nasty slider, throwing 30 of his 41 pitches for strikes, using 11, 12, 7 and 11 over the four frames. He struck out three, with only two balls leaving the infield, albeit against a Colombian lineup devoid of any major-league regulars, headlined by Donavan Solano.
"Our guys had no chance at the beginning," Colombia manager Luis Urueta said. "He kept his pitch count low. And he was getting ahead and using his fastball-slider combo, which worked out pretty well. Our hitters couldn't hit him."
There is some history to suggest Archer is taking a risk by pitching at increased intensity in mid March, whether it be injury or late-season fatigue. But the immediate reward was worthwhile, for Archer and for the Rays, who want — and need — him to pitch more like he did in 2015 than last year, when a bad start led to a 9-19, 4.02 mess.
"Tonight was a great night," Archer said. "I accomplished the things I set out to accomplish."
Just not maybe everything he could have.