HOUSTON -- Chris Archer threw four consecutive balls to start his outing on Thursday night, walking leadoff hitter Jose Altuve. The Rays' ace was nearly untouchable after that, sending down 26 of the final 27 batters while throwing a dazzling one-hit shutout to beat the Astros, 1-0, at Minute Maid Park.
Archer struck out 11 batters en route to throwing his third career shutout, his first in more than two years. He faced one batter over the minimum and threw the Rays' first complete game in nearly a year (Aug. 22, 2014), needing 98 pitches. Archer also became the fifth pitcher in the Wild Card era to strike out 11 or more batters on fewer than 100 pitches in a nine-inning complete game.
"They're an aggressive team also," Archer said. "Right out of the gate I was mixing my pitches a little bit better. I had my changeup going. And that was a difference-maker."
The Astros, who had posted walk-off wins the previous two nights, squandered a chance to add to their lead in the American League West over the second-place Angels and third-place Rangers, who both lost. Houston has a 2 1/2-game lead over Los Angeles and a four-game lead over Texas.
"That lineup over there is no joke," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "They have the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark throughout that lineup. And Arch just navigated his way through it."
Archer didn't allow a baserunner after the walk to Altuve until Colby Rasmus led off the fifth with the Astros' lone hit. It was the third time this year the Astros have been held to one hit.
"He's the story of the game," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "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, and after that he was very dominant."
Astros starter Collin McHugh pitched well in defeat, allowing one run, five hits and two walks in seven innings. He has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 11 of his last 12 outings, going 7-4 with a 2.84 ERA in that span.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED McHugh on the spot defensively: McHugh pitched well in defeat, and he made a pair of eye-popping defensive plays in the fourth. He reached behind his back to snag a James Loney grounder to start the fourth, and he ended the inning by tripping while he was throwing a pitch, a soft toss that Kevin Kiermaier tapped back to the mound for the third out. More >
Jennings back on track:Desmond Jennings went 6-for-13 when he first returned from the 60-day disabled list (left knee bursitis), but carried an 0-for-7 mark since then entering Thursday night's game. Jennings snapped that skid with singles in his first two at-bats. The second one came in the fourth and drove in Logan Forsythe to give the Rays a 1-0 lead.
"It feels good. We played some good baseball games here. To split the series, that team is a very talented team. We can say coulda, shoulda, woulda all day long. We're happy with the way we played here. We just have to carry it into Oakland." -- Cash, on earning the series split with the Astros
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The Rays won their third 1-0 game this season. The win marked their 69th game this season (35-34) that has been decided by two runs or fewer. Fourteen of their last 19 games have been decided by one or two runs.
WHAT'S NEXT Rays:Drew Smyly (0-2, 4.35 ERA) will make his fifth start of the season and second since returning from the 60-day disabled list (torn left labrum) on Friday against the A's at 10:05 p.m. ET. He came through his first outing healthy but had some command issues, mostly with his offspeed stuff. When Smyly is in charge, he commands the strike zone and changes speeds well.
Astros: Right-hander Mike Fiers (5-9, 3.87 ERA) will make his third start with Houston since coming over in a trade with the Brewers when the Astros open a three-game series against the Dodgers at 7:10 p.m. CT on Friday at Minute Maid Park. He's posted a 0.75 ERA over 12 innings in two starts with the Astros.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.