ST. PETERSBURG -- Less than a week after twirling a two-hit shutout at Yankee Stadium and two days before matching up with the defending world champions, Chris Archer held court with the media near his locker at Tropicana Field.
He stood there for nearly 15 minutes, talking into microphones and cameras, linking together one articulate answer after another.
There was no official tally on how many questions the Tampa Bay rookie right-hander fielded Wednesday afternoon. But only once was he asked about his fastball and slider.
Baseball isn't life to Archer, the 24-year-old whose 4-0 record and 0.73 ERA in July helped the Rays craft one of the greatest months in major league history.
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It's the other way around.
"Making the transition from life to baseball is easy," said Archer, who takes the mound Friday night when the Rays open a three-game series against the San Francisco Giants at Tropicana Field. "It's easy because the things I've dealt with in life are tougher than a tough ballgame out here."
Archer takes his game seriously. On Wednesday, hours before the Rays met the Arizona Diamondbacks in the finale of a two-game series, Archer was alone in Tropicana Field's expansive outfield, firing a ball off the right-field wall.
Then he made his way over to the bullpen and pantomimed his delivery, his way of visualizing and preparing for his next start.
The results are there. Archer is 6-3 with a 2.39 ERA and has already thrown two shutouts in 11 starts, inserting himself into a crowded race for the American League's Rookie of the Year award that also includes teammate Wil Myers.
"His maturity has come into play," catcher Jose Molina said. "He's learning how to pitch, and he continues to. Those guys are so very, very young, and they have so much talent that they can do anything they want."
"I've already been there in my mind hundreds of times," Archer said. "It's been something I've been working on since I've been 14 years old, when I really started to hone in on baseball. ... It starts with the mind and knowing yourself and staying true to the things that work. From the outside perspective, it looks like a huge leap. But in my head, I knew I was capable of doing these things."
His mind is Archer's most valuable muscle, though he keeps it sharp with books having little to deal with what goes on between the white lines.
"I feel if I read something I can apply to life, I can apply to it baseball. It's much simpler to apply it to baseball after I've already applied it to life," Archer said. "I read the "The Mental Game of Baseball," and it was baseball, baseball, baseball, baseball. I was going into games expecting immediate results, but I know that's not how it works. So if I read something about my life, observe what happens and understand the ups and downs in life, and if I have that here, I can stay a little more clear and a little more at peace."
Archer's brain food consists of self-help books and offerings on spirituality. He also reads autobiographies, listing Malcolm X's as one of his favorites.
"He was a big civil rights activist, but not even that," Archer said, his voice rising and brimming with enthusiasm. "He went through this awesome transition to where he was a delinquent and became a very religious man. He was all about the Muslim faith, but then he kind of branched off and wasn't super devout to Muslim. He just found things that were true from that religion and other religions, and found himself."
Archer's investment into the cerebral side of baseball can be attributed to his junior varsity coach, Ron Walker, whom Archer refers to as a mentor. They still speak regularly.
"I was 14, and he started just working with me on a mental level," Archer said. "It wasn't to the point to where I'm at now, but he preached how important it is to know yourself, to be articulate. So that way, you can express what you feel on the mound or in a certain situation in life. Because what he was teaching me was about life.
"Our relationship has evolved. ... It's not even a mentor; it's just the word I use so other people can understand."
Acquired as part of a deal that sent Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs, Archer has become another power arm on a team chock full of them. He is pitching and winning and establishing himself as one of Tampa Bay's most reliable starters.
And he's doing it his way, putting life before baseball while getting all he can from both.
"As far as life goes, everything's feeling good. ... That translates into your job, in any profession," Archer said. "I'm feeling at home with where I'm at, with my thoughts and my play."