ANAHEIM — On a crisp Tuesday night, the Tampa Bay Rays rode the powerful pitching performance of Chris Archer to a 6-1 rout over the Los Angeles Angels. The Rays are now 17-9 at Angel Stadium since 2010.
Like the cartoon secret agent, Archer was deadly. The 26-year-old went eight innings allowing only one earned run on six hits while striking out 15 batters, which ties James Shields’ performance against the Baltimore Orioles in 2012 as a Rays single-game strikeout record.
“[Evan Longoria] told me after the eighth, ‘Congrats on tying the franchise record,’ ” Archer said. “If you’re out there counting strikeouts, either you’re really desperate for them or you’re just so out-of-this-planet good that the game’s easy.”
Archer came into the game with a franchise best 2.12 ERA through the month the May, and no pitcher has combined that with a line similar to his 82 strikeouts and .192 opponents’ batting average since the recently inducted Hall of Famer, Pedro Martinez, did in 2001 with 121 strikeouts, a .186 opponents’ batting average and 1.44 ERA.
“It all stems from fastball command,” Archer said. “They take bad swings at the slider because you’re in the zone with so much, and then when they are thinking slider you can go heater.”
“Every guy that got to first base was talking about, “Man, if this guy doesn’t leave one over the middle of the plate, it’s going to be near impossible to get a hit right now,’ ” Rays first baseman Jake Elmore said. “And two guys who got hits, they said, “I closed my eyes, to be honest.’ ”
The Rays drew first blood at the top of the first when second baseman Logan Forsythe hit a two-run home run to left field off the 90 MPH four-seam fastball of Angels’ starter C.J. Wilson. Forsythe has reached base in 21 of his last 22 games and is the team leader in doubles (13), extra base-hits (19) and second in home runs (6) and RBI (24). He then flashed the leather in the bottom half of the first by catching Albert Pujols’ line drive and doubling up Eric Aybar at first base to end the inning.
Wilson quickly recovered after that by hurling three perfect innings while striking out six Tampa Bay batters with his assortment of off-speed pitches and a low 90’s fastball that is always precisely located.
As good as Archer was in the first three innings (seven strikeouts and one hit allowed), it was only a matter of time before he would run into the perennial Pujols buzzsaw. Pujols pounded Archer’s 89 MPH meatball all the way to the outfield bullpens to cut the Tampa Bay lead in half. It’s the veteran slugger’s 14th home run on the season and his sixth home run in as many days. The 35-year-old has now tied with the late great Jimmie Foxx for 17th on the all-time home run leaderboard with 534 career taters.
“I never thought in my life that when I got to the big leagues I was going to have half the home runs I have hit,” said Pujols, who is just two home runs behind Mickey Mantle for 16th place.
“When you let yourself look around the peripheral, outside of the day-to-day focus on managing,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, “it’s exciting to see what Mike Trout is doing and the names he’s being compared with and early in his career the way he matches up. And the way Albert is going, every time he hits a home run there’s another baseball immortal he’s in the same sentence with. It’s exciting.”
Pujols would’ve passed Foxx in the eighth inning if Rays center fielder Mikie Mahtook didn’t rob his would-be home run by the rocks in centerfield.
Wilson ran into trouble again at the top of the sixth inning when he hit Rays leadoff hitter, Brandon Guyer, with a 90 MPH two-seam fastball then walked Forsythe and Steven Souza Jr. to load the bases. Back-to-back singles by Jake Elmore and Asdrubal Cabrera extended the Tampa Bay lead to 5-1. Wilson’s night ended with six innings pitched, four hits, five earned runs, three walks and seven strikeouts.
“C.J. had better stuff than his line will show,” Scioscia said. “He did a good job until the sixth inning when he lost his release point.”
Edgar Ibarra made his big league debut following Wilson’s departure in the seventh inning and got his career on the right start with two strikeouts in two innings. Ibarra celebrated his 26th birthday on the final day of May and had his contract selected from Triple-A Salt Lake on Monday. He went 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA, a save and 29 strikeouts in 17 appearances for the Bees.
Rays catcher Rene Rivera hit an RBI single off Cesar Ramos’ 82 MPH changeup at the top of the ninth to close out the scoring at 6-1. Xavier Cedeno closed out the bottom of the ninth to seal the victory in his Rays debut. The 28-year-old native of Puerto Rico came to Tampa Bay in a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Angeles second baseman Johnny Giavotella went 1 for 3 and his one base hit came off a throw by Rays superstar third baseman and Southern California native Even Longoria gets past Elmore’s glove. Prior to Tuesday night, the 27-year-old went 12 for his last 28 and had a .517 average with eight RBI in late-game close situations. His nine go-ahead and seven walk-off hits this season leads the team and has him second in the American League in the heroic category.
Looking at those numbers, it’s amazing how this guy came to the big A after just being along for the ride with the Kansas City Royals a year ago.
“It wasn’t like he had a large opportunity [in Kansas City],” Scioscia said. “He’s been a bright spot so far this season. I think he’s prepared for the opportunity that he’s getting now and he’s playing well.”
“I’m just playing my type of baseball and I think the guys appreciate it here,” Giavotella said. “I play hard, I leave it all on the field every day and good things should happen.”
With the win, the Rays are back above .500 and are only a half game behind the New York Yankees for the top spot in the American League East. They are doing so with more players in the disabled list than any other team in baseball and four rookie pitchers in the starting rotation (most in baseball). They’re also doing so with the lowest ERA and the fewest errors in the American League, which has been the Rays memo since rebranding in 2008.
Only five American League starting pitchers have been able to hold their opponents’ batting average under .200. The Angels already lost to one of them in Archer, they’ll face another one in rookie Nathan Karns (.195) on Wednesday. Hector Santiago (4-3, 2.18 ERA) will toe the rubber for the Halos.
Tony Capobianco started the SMDP column “Cap Space” just in time for the 2014-15 Clippers season. You can contact him via email at email@example.com.