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HOU@TB: Archer fans eight over 6 2/3 shutout innings

ST. PETERSBURG -- A quality start by Chris Archer, some timely hitting -- finally -- and an attitude by the Aussie. That's the flavor the Rays were supposed to have this season.

Thursday night, that added up to a 5-0 Rays win over the Astros at Tropicana Field.

The Rays snapped a two-game losing streak while moving to 29-45 on the season and claiming their fifth win in their last eight games after losing 14 of 15.

Archer entered the game with Saturday's start against the same Astros fresh in mind. That one turned out to be the right-hander's shortest start of the season at three innings pitched. The Astros scored six runs against him, but just one was earned. The other five came via his own throwing error.

Same pitcher, different night.

Archer looked in command for the duration of his 6 2/3 inning stint Thursday night, holding the Astros scoreless on three hits while striking out eight.

"I think they saw a lot closer to my potential than they saw last time," Archer said. "It makes a huge difference when you're pitching ahead. Just getting strike one is key, and that's what tonight was proof of."

Archer earned his first win since May 16 against the Angels in Anaheim and his first home win since April 19 against the Yankees.

"He got it done," catcher Ryan Hanigan said. "I think he was a little upset with the way he threw last time, and I didn't really talk to him about it that much. He had [Saturday's game] under control for the most part [and it just got away].

"He didn't lose his command. He was down in the zone. Walks were down. Throwing a lot of strikes. Pitching down in the zone. Velocity was up a little bit, too, tonight. Really, for the most part for him, he just had better command."

Rays manager Joe Maddon believes Archer's composure is the key. He noted that he kept his composure Thursday night.

"His stuff is almost always very good," Maddon said. "The two things that vary to me is just how he reacts to the moment and the tilt on his slider. Because the velocity on his fastball is normally good. Command of the fastball will come and go. Always does. But when he's able to command his slider, it gets him through those moments."

Collin McHugh started for the Astros and navigated dangerous waters in two of the first three innings, but the Rays went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.

James Loney then singled to open the Rays' fourth and Brandon Guyer reached when Astros shortstop Jonathan Villar mishandled second baseman's Jose Altuve's throw on a force. One out later with the Rays' RISP problem up to 0-for-7, Yunel Escobar threaded a single through the middle to score Loney.

Hanigan followed with an RBI sacrifice bunt to score Guyer for a 2-0 lead for the Rays on two unearned runs. Given the fact the Rays were shut out on Wednesday, the runs felt like soothing medicine.

"It was awesome to see us be on the other end of that," Archer said. "A lot of times, teams have been capitalizing on the one mistake that we make. The one mistake that they made, we were able to make the most of it."

McHugh wouldn't throw his defense under the bus.

"Errors happen," McHugh said. "I have as much confidence with our guys back there as anybody in the world."

Kevin Kiermaier and Evan Longoria put the game on ice in the seventh when Kiermaier hit his fourth home run of the season -- a two-run shot off Paul Clemens -- and Longoria followed with a solo shot, giving him nine for the season while putting the Rays up 5-0.

"It was nice, finally, in my last at-bat to get a good pitch to hit and finally do something with it," Kiermaier said. "I was just fortunate enough to put a good swing on it and barrel it up."

Brad Boxberger, Joel Peralta and Grant Balfour covered the final 2 1/3 innings, with Balfour striking out the side in the ninth to end the game.

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