Rays send message with complete victory over Yankees

Published Aug. 23, 2013 11:57 p.m. EDT

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- This is what a contender looks like. This is how division titles are won: Pounce on a challenge, scratch all doubt early and prep for the next one.

The Tampa Bay Rays made light work of the hot New York Yankees on Friday, brushing them aside 7-2 like a pinstriped pine needle at Tropicana Field.

It was a complete effort from all angles: Strong pitching from right-hander Chris Archer (two runs and four hits in seven innings), dynamic offense (four home runs off right-hander Hiroki Kuroda) and a sense that there was more to accomplish, more statements to make.

"We delivered a Friday-night message," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That's it. I have a lot of respect for what they're doing. They've got two really good pitchers coming up. ... I think part of their problem tonight, overall, (was) they wanted Kuroda to go deeper, because they're trying to save their bullpen. It has been pretty taxed lately. We were fortunate with that. But they're not going away. They're going to be fine tomorrow. We've got to come out and play a good game."

True, but there was plenty to like tonight. Tampa Bay's four home runs tied a season high (fifth time, last was July 19 at the Toronto Blue Jays), Archer improved to 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA in three starts against New York this season and the Rays snapped the Yankees' five-game winning streak with authority.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

If Tampa Bay duplicates this effort, there will be plenty more messages delivered. The Rays have shown this level of play in earlier moments since they began their trek toward the top of the AL East.

But this version was impressive Friday given the opponent (the surging Yankees) and the efficiency with which the rout occurred (the Rays led 7-1 after the fifth inning).

These are the kind of nights that make you wonder. These are the kind of nights that make you think the Rays are primed for the sprint to come: 36 games in 37 days, hardly a second to exhale.

Aim high.

Why yes, the Rays can overtake the Boston Red Sox in the AL East. Why yes, they can go deep in the postseason. Why yes, they are one of the majors' most fascinating combinations of power at the plate and smarts on the mound when everything hums.

Would the Rays call this night a complete effort?

"It felt like that in every way," Archer said.

"I would definitely classify it as such," Maddon said.

It is hard to nitpick the home clubhouse when boos for Alex Rodriguez made more noise than the Yankees' bats. Meanwhile, the Rays' wood was loud against Kuroda, who entered with an AL-best 2.41 ERA.

So much for that.

The home runs allowed by the Yankees' starter snapped a career-long 57 2/3-inning streak without him surrendering one, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. His ERA jumped to 2.71. This was a two-hour, 41-minute stumble to forget for anyone in black and grey.

The Rays? Their postgame party raged on.

"Every win, I think is really important right now," said Rays catcher Jose Lobaton, who went 2 for 3 with four RBI and a 372-foot three-run home run to right field in the second inning. "We're trying to make the playoffs. They're trying to make the playoffs. We're working hard. We're playing hard. Hopefully, we just keep winning."

There are two games left in this intriguing series. But Maddon is right about Act One: Tampa Bay sent a message. The meaning was delivered, loud and clear, via the long ball and first-class pitching.

The look of a contender?

Why, yes. A complete one.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford

or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.