After winning the final two games of a three-game series against Detroit to close out June, Tampa Bay embarked on a 14-game stretch against teams with sub-.500 records -- the Astros, White Sox and Twins. And the Rays did what good teams are supposed to do by mowing through the soft spot of their schedule with a 14-2 mark.
"If teams are not playing up to their potential sometimes, you have to make sure you put hay in the barn at that point, and we were able to do that," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
A resurgence of the Rays' rotation fueled much of the team's recent run, with Archer offering the latest installment of dominant starting pitching on Sunday.
The 24-year-old right-hander made his eighth start of the season and stated his case for why he should remain in the rotation even after Alex Cobb returns in the coming weeks. Archer had all of his pitches going en route to his fifth win of the season and his first ever complete game.
"[Pitching a complete game] meant a lot, because my past couple of games I felt strong enough to pitch deep into the ballgame, but really, I've never pitched into the eighth inning before, Minor League or Major League, Little League, whatever -- seriously, Little League, because you don't play nine," Archer said.
"But it was cool," he continued. They had faith in me to go deep. We scored enough runs, so there was no question. We played tremendous defense, which saved me pitches, and I was able to execute. It was the best game I've ever pitched in my life, so it means everything."
Archer allowed no runs on five hits without walking a batter while striking out eight to earn his first Major League complete game. Desmond Jennings flagged down Jason Castro's deep fly to center for the final out of the game, prompting the smiling Archer to jump into the air with his arms outstretched before hugging catcher Jose Lobaton.
Seconds later, the other starters joined Archer on the mound to celebrate his moment.
Maddon believes that Archer's performance can carry him a long way.
"That's the kind of game that a young starter can really grow from," Maddon said. "I always talk about a mind once stretched has a difficult time going back to its original form," Maddon said. "That's a situational moment as a baseball player. You stretch yourself to a complete game as a young starter. That can really open up a lot of doors for you mentally."
Houston manager Bo Porter said "good" would be an understatement when describing Archer's performance.
"He was excellent today," Porter said. "It was more about him than anything else."
Archer did his best David Price impression by being very pitch-efficient, throwing 112 pitches, 80 for strikes.
"He wants to be like [Price], and he can be like that, because he's got the stuff," Maddon said. "He's a great athlete. You see him moving out there on the mound. He's got all the ability to be as good as you saw today on a consistent basis."
Maddon smiled when asked about who will be the odd man out of the rotation once Cobb returns.
"It's a great problem to have," Maddon said.
The slumping Evan Longoria entered Sunday's game hitting .125 in his previous 17 games. But he rose to the occasion against the Astros to drive home the Rays' first run with a double to left in the first. The double was just Longoria's second extra-base hit of July.
In the fourth, Kelly Johnson lined a single off the glove of Astros first baseman Carlos Pena before Jose Lobaton moved him over with a bunt single. Bedard's attempt to throw out Lobaton was offline, allowing Johnson to score. Lobaton scored when Jennings grounded into a double play.
Jennings added two insurance runs in the sixth when he muscled a two-out, two-run home run, his 11th of the season, to deep-center field off of reliever Paul Clemens.
So the Rays will be taking a break at a time when going to work might be preferred.
"You want to play every day when you're winning games," Jennings said. "[But] it's a good time for us to take a few days off and rest up -- come out with some energy in the second half."