For a change, the Tampa Bay Rays found some clutch hits to go with their usual solid pitching.
They're hoping for a few more to back rookie call-up Chris Archer on Saturday night when the Rays continue their series versus the AL West-leading Texas Rangers.
While the Rays (76-62) have stormed into playoff contention behind a pitching staff that has compiled a 2.38 ERA in winning 22 of 34 games since Aug. 1, much has also been made of a scuffling offense that has been shut out nine times and been held to two or fewer runs on 40 occasions - winning just four - this season.
Both sides of Tampa Bay were on display in the opener of this three-game set Friday. Jeremy Hellickson and four relievers combined to allow five hits, but Ben Zobrist's two-run walkoff homer allowed the Rays to overcome 16 strikeouts in a 3-1, 11-inning win and move within one game of Baltimore for the second wild-card berth.
``I've never had a walk-off home run before in my life, regardless of whether it was Little League or high school or college,' said Zobrist, who is 10 for 27 with three doubles and one homer against Texas this year. ``I thought about if it was ever going to happen, but when you're in the moment you just try to have a good, quality at-bat.'
Evan Longoria also homered to account for the other run as Tampa Bay's other three hits were all singles. The third baseman has an RBI in five consecutive games and will try to extend that streak while helping Archer (0-2, 3.86 ERA), who will make his third major league start after being recalled from Triple-A Durham on Friday.
Archer is taking David Price's spot after the Rays decided to skip the staff ace's turn in the rotation due to a sore left shoulder. Price, who did pick up his 17th win Sunday at Toronto, expects to be back for his next scheduled appearance.
"It's the first time I've ever had soreness in my shoulder like that so I'm just going to take it slow,' he said Friday. ``I played catch today, felt good so I'm just looking forward to (throwing again) Sunday or Monday and making my next start. It's a good time for me to miss a start and get that extra rest, then come back and be ready to throw.'
Archer proved himself worthy of a recall from Durham after going 2-1 with a 1.75 ERA in 10 appearances, striking out 42 in 46 1-3 innings.
"Any time you get the opportunity to take the ball in the big leagues, it's super exciting," Archer told the team's official website ahead of his home debut. "You try not to get overwhelmed with everything. But it's always exciting."
Yu Darvish (14-9, 4.29) is trying to beat Tampa Bay for the second time in 11 days and win his third consecutive start. He extended his single-season franchise record for victories by a rookie Monday at Kansas City, retiring the first 17 batters he faced in an 8-4 victory and allowed three runs in seven innings.
"It was as good as I've seen his stuff,' manager Ron Washington said. ``His stuff was real crisp. His curveball they just couldn't do anything with it. Early in the game his cutter was just outstanding. His four-seamer, he was zipping it. He was hitting his spots with consistency."
Darvish stifled the Rays on Aug. 28, scattering six hits and two walks while striking out 10 in seven innings of a 1-0 win. It is one of only two appearances the right-hander did not give up a run in 25 starts, the other being against the New York Yankees on April 24.
The Associated Press News Service
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