"All the hard work and all the doubters and naysayers, it was tears of joy," Archer said one day before returning to the mound where it all began for a start in Thursday's finale vs. the Nats.
"I was just, like, humbled and excited and just honored all at the same time to be there on that stage for the first time after contemplating not playing at times."
The debut was a success. Archer tossed six innings and allowed one earned run, then headed below the stadium to share an unforgettable moment with his parents before they left for work and he met with the media.
Three years and 72 big league starts later, things are different.
Now, both his parents are retired and Archer is one of the top pitchers in baseball at 7-4 with a 2.00 ERA. He leads the Majors in games started (14) and strikeouts (113) and the American League in fielding independent pitching (FIP), an advanced metric that calculates a pitcher's effectiveness with the four true outcomes.
"It's so drastically different," Archer said, recalling how he has progressed since that debut. "When you first come up, you're kind of looking over your shoulder and you give up a run and you're like, 'Oh man, is that going to be the difference?' So you're not in the moment and you're not going with the process. You're way more result-oriented. And my first couple years taught me not to be, because you're not going to get the best out of yourself. My stuff seems like it's so much better. I actually know how to pitch."
Archer's manager, Kevin Cash, wasn't with the Rays three years ago, but as a coach in the AL for the past two seasons he was plenty familiar with the name.
"Any time we were getting ready to face him, you always talked about the stuff," Cash said. "That hasn't changed. I think now you see more of a complete pitcher that has harnessed that stuff. He utilizes it as good as anybody in baseball."
The first time through Washington was a "whirlwind" for Archer. He didn't remember the hotel he stayed in or the layout of the locker room -- everything was about pitching.
Now a 26-year-old veteran wise beyond his years, Archer has no reason to look over his shoulder. His spot at the front of the Rays' rotation is secure, providing the opportunity to appreciate the moment and focus on dominating on the mound.