HOUSTON -- In late May, Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Chris Archer began a three-start stretch of double-digit strikeout, zero-walk performances -- a string of outings so utterly dominant that his ascent could no longer be denied.
On Thursday night at Minute Maid Park, Archer was better than ever.
Archer recorded the third shutout of his career and the Rays salvaged a series split with a 1-0 victory over the Houston Astros.
Archer (11-9) allowed just one hit and issued one walk while recording 11 strikeouts. He needed only 98 pitches to stifle the Astros (66-56), who required walk-off, extra-inning wins to claim the middle two games of this four-game set. Behind brilliant starting pitching the Rays (60-61) limited Houston to just eight total runs during the series.
"I'm human so I thought about the fact that our bullpen needed to breathe a little bit and it was either get 130 pitches and go six or seven (innings), or go eight or nine and give everybody a complete blow," Archer said. "So 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."
Rays left fielder Desmond Jennings knocked in the lone run of the game with his two-out single in the fourth inning, scoring second baseman Logan Forsythe.
Archer began his outing with a four-pitch walk of Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, who was subsequently erased as the third out of the first inning trying to advance on a pitch in the dirt. Archer struck out Marwin Gonzalez and Carlos Correa in that frame, a foreboding sign of things to come.
"I can't say that that was the best but that's got to be right up there at the top simply because it's kind of like an ace knowing what we were faced up against with our bullpen being stretched out the last two nights," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "He kind of took the game on his shoulders and really delivered. He was incredibly sharp."
Archer set the Astros down in order in the second, third and fourth innings. Right fielder Colby Rasmus silenced any murmurs of a potential no-hit bid with a leadoff single in the fifth, but Archer responded by retiring the next three batters to strand Rasmus at first. By the close of the seventh inning, he was riding a streak of nine consecutive batters retired with just 78 pitches on his ledger, including only 28 balls.
"He's the story of the game," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of Archer. "He was in complete control. He's the real deal. He's got every pitch and he had it tonight. I don't know if that was his best because I'm not around him on a day-to-day basis, but it's the best we've seen and certainly he was in total command. His first four pitches were his worst four pitches. After that, he was very dominant."
Astros right-hander Collin McHugh (13-7) proved up to the challenge. While he didn't dominate to the extent that Archer did, he repeatedly responded when trouble arose, particularly in the top of the third.
When center fielder Kevin Kiermaier followed Jennings' leadoff single to right with a walk, Rays catcher Rene Rivera delivered a sacrifice bunt that pushed Jennings and Kiermaier into scoring position. McHugh answered by inducing a pair of fly balls around a Grady Sizemore walk that loaded the bases, and he allowed just one additional baserunner over his final three innings of work, a single by Rivera in the seventh.
McHugh allowed only five hits and two walks while striking out five over seven innings. On most nights, that effort would have sufficed.
"Chris did well today. There's no getting around that," McHugh said. "He threw the ball as well as you could throw it. It was a tough draw for sure."
NOTES: Rays LHP Jake McGee will undergo arthroscopic surgery on Friday to repair a left knee meniscus tear. He is expected to miss 6-8 weeks. McGee underwent an MRI Thursday morning in St. Petersburg and was examined by team orthopedist Dr. Koco Eaton. He has been placed on the 15-day disabled list, with the LHP Enny Romero recalled from Triple-A Durham to replace McGee on the roster. ... Needing reinforcements for their overworked bullpen, the Astros recalled RHP Vince Velasquez from Double A Corpus Christi and optioned RHP Josh Fields to Corpus Christi. Fields was 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA over his last 17 appearances but he worked four games in five days. Velasquez will provide the Astros long relief. ... Astros OF George Springer is unlikely to take live batting practice before the club departs on a six-game, seven-day road trip through New York and Minnesota next week. Springer has been swinging a fungo bat in the cage as he works his way back from a right wrist fracture.