ST. PETERSBURG -- Chris Archer battled his command and the Rays' bats went from red-hot to cold overnight as the Red Sox took a 2-1 win Wednesday night at Tropicana Field to claim the rubber game of the three-game series.
In defeat, the Rays (35-30) lost for the third time in their last four games, falling five games behind the American League East-leading Red Sox.
Archer made his third big league start of the season, showing the electric stuff that has the Rays excited about the 24-year-old right-hander's future.
While the greatness showed, and the strikeouts mounted, Archer was not efficient with his offerings and had to leave the game after four innings and 103 pitches.
"Outstanding, unbelievably good stuff," manager Joe Maddon said. "That stuff is great. It's really going to play one day here very consistently, but again, it has to be a more consistent performance on his part."
Boston got on the board in the third when a 3-2 Archer slider caught too much of the plate and Daniel Nava re-routed the pitch into the right-field stands for a two-run homer, his ninth of the season.
"He can hit balls down and in really well," Archer said. "I was trying to throw a back-door slider. Throw it outside. It was a decent pitch, but it was a pitch he could hit. He dropped the head on it."
Archer looked visibly upset after Nava connected, putting his glove over his head as both runners crossed the plate. That would be the first of two demonstrative displays by the youngster. The second one came after facing Nava in the fourth.
Once again, Archer found himself in trouble when the Red Sox loaded the bases on a single and two walks with two outs. Archer recovered to strike out Nava swinging to end the threat. As Archer walked toward the Rays' dugout he pumped his fist, clearly jazzed about the outcome of his battle with Nava.
Archer said he could understand if the Red Sox interpreted his gesture as being over the top, but he insisted he meant no disrespect.
"I was just competing," Archer said, "and I wasn't holding anything back and I just did what was natural. I was pretty amped, and I let it show."
The strikeout pitch turned out to be the final one of Archer's outing.
"Wild, shotgun, scattered, he didn't look like he had that normal, nice calm demeanor about him and with that the command wasn't very good," said Maddon about Archer's outing. "[Throwing] 103 pitches through four innings, that's not very good."
Archer allowed two runs on four hits and four walks while striking out seven en route to his second loss.
"I think I was trying to do a little too much and was falling behind like 2-0, and they forced me to throw strikes -- and worked the count," Archer said. "Just threw way too many pitches. Didn't get strike one enough."
Evan Longoria got the Rays on the scoreboard in the sixth with a solo home run off Red Sox starter Alfredo Aceves, giving Longoria his third home run in as many nights and his 13th of the season. The homer proved to be all the Rays' could muster after clubbing eight home runs in the previous two games. Much of the offense's change of fortunes could be attributed to the nice showing by Aceves.
Boston recalled the veteran right-hander from Triple-A Pawtucket to make the spot start Wednesday night. He carried into the outing a 2-1 record with a 2.39 ERA in 19 career appearances.
"We can't hit that guy," Maddon said. "We were hitting like .105 [against him] as a group. He pitched really well against us again."
Aceves allowed one run on four hits in six innings to pick up his third win of the season.
"[Aceves] did a great job locating the ball, mixing his pitches," Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "He was just great tonight. Fastball was sharp, curveball was sharp. We were able to use everything for strikes."
Four Boston relievers covered the final three innings without allowing a run to preserve the win, while Rays relievers pitched five scoreless frames after Archer's exit.
"I thought if we got to their bullpen, their bullpen was as tired as ours," Maddon said. "But their bullpen responded like ours did today, so both bullpens pitched very well."
Kelly Johnson, who hit a two-out double in the eighth only to get stranded, said the Red Sox were in first place for a reason.
"It is a long season, though," Johnson said. "We've got a lot of games against them. There's positives in this series as far as coming back and keeping it close. Some of the [pitchers] did just tremendous work. Can't be overlooked, especially bullpen guys -- key bullpen guys, too. But we left some runners out there. We lost. You still can't cover the fact that we dropped two. Winning the series would've been huge."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.