ANAHEIM, California — Chris Archer was in the zone in more ways than one, toying with the Los Angeles Angels' hitters with his fastball and slider to a point where they didn't know what to swing at. And when they did, they usually missed.
Archer tied a franchise record with 15 strikeouts over eight innings, overcoming another milestone home run by Albert Pujols and leading the Rays to a 6-1 victory Tuesday night. He didn't realize what he had done until teammate Evan Longoria approached him after he had been taken out of the game.
"I had no clue," the 26-year-old right-hander said of his strikeout total. "Longo told me after I finished the eighth: 'Congrats on tying the franchise record.' I knew that I struck out quite a few people, but my focus was 60 feet, 6 inches away each individual pitch. I'm just happy I can go out there and give the team quality innings and save the bullpen a little bit."
Archer (6-4) matched the 15 strikeouts James Shields had on Oct. 2, 2012 in a complete-game 1-0 loss to Baltimore. He did not walk a batter, throwing 80 of his 105 pitches for strikes and allowing six hits.
"Getting people out in the big leagues, whether it's a strikeout, popup, ground ball, a missile to the shortstop, it all feels the same," said Archer, who fanned reigning AL MVP Mike Trout three times. "If you're out there counting strikeouts, either you're really desperate for them or you're just so out-of-this-planet good that the game is easy. I was in the moment.
"It all stems from fastball command," he added. "They take bad swings at the slider because you're in the zone with the heater so much. And when they're thinking slider, you can go heater."
Archer won his third straight decision, becoming the first Ray with at least 12 strikeouts in consecutive outings. Last Wednesday, he pitched eight innings of two-hit ball in his duel with Seattle's Felix Hernandez and wound up with a no-decision in Tampa Bay's 3-0 loss.
Archer struck out the side on 12 pitches in the second inning. He fanned his first two in the third before Johnny Giavotella singled off the pitcher's leg and continued to second when Jake Elmore — making his third career start at first base — dropped the throw from third baseman Longoria on the ricochet. Archer overcame Elmore's error by striking out Erick Aybar.
"He was exceptional. He's definitely one of the best pitchers in the game," Angels catcher Chris Iannetta said. "He throws a mid-90s fastball that can touch 97 and 98 on some of his good days, and his slider speaks for itself. Even his mistakes are really hard to hit."
Pujols tied Jimmie Foxx for 17th place on the career home run list with his 534th, putting him two behind Mickey Mantle. And he did it in his 8,134th big league at-bat — the exact same number that Foxx finished his career with.
Pujols' solo shot in the fourth inning was his sixth homer in as many games. It also was the 1,118th extra-base hit for the three-time NL MVP, edging him past Foxx and Ted Williams into sole possession of 16th place in that department and putting him within one of George Brett.
C.J. Wilson (3-4) gave up five runs, four hits and three walks in six innings and struck out seven. The left-hander, coming off a 12-2 win over Detroit last Thursday, hasn't won consecutive starts since last September.
Logan Forsythe opened the scoring in the first, driving a 1-0 pitch into the lower seats in the left field corner with two outs after a single by Joey Butler. Forsythe has hit exactly six home runs in each of his last four seasons, none with more than one man on base.
The Rays did not get another hit until the sixth, when Elmore drove in two runs with a bases-loaded single after Wilson plunked Brandon Guyer to open the inning and issued two two-out walks. Cabrera capped the rally with an RBI single that increased Tampa Bay's lead to 5-1.
Rays: RHP Kirby Yates, sidelined because of a strained right pectoral muscle, is expected to pitch one inning in a rehab outing with Single-A Charlotte on Thursday after throwing an inning in an expended string training game on Monday. ... LHP Matt Moore is on tap to throw 50 pitches Wednesday for Charlotte in a rehab game while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Rays: Rookie RHP Nathan Karns (3-2) pitched six innings of one-hit ball last Friday at Baltimore and left with a 1-0 lead, but had to settle for a no-decision.
Angels: LHP Hector Santiago (4-3) is 2-0 in his last five starts at home, allowing three earned runs in 31 innings.