SEATTLE – The unrealistic possibility of James Paxton throwing another no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays this season was realized just one batter into Saturday night when Devon Travis yanked a curveball into the left-field corner for a one-out double.
But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a flirtation with pitching’s coveted accomplishment. Paxton’s counterpart, veteran right-hander Marco Estrada, held the Mariners hitless for 6 1/3 innings. Mitch Haniger broke up the no-hitter, doubling down the left-field line.
Often times when a no-hitter is broken up, the team getting no-hit can put together a rally against the crest-fallen pitcher.
The Mariners? Yeah, not so much.
As has become custom since around the first of July, Seattle’s anemic offense mustered an insignificant amount of run support for Paxton leading to a 5-1 defeat against the Blue Jays, much to the delight of the 41,238 spectators packed into the Roger Centre, er, Safeco Field.
It was Seattle’s fifth consecutive defeat. With Oakland’s 2-1 victory over the Tigers, the Mariners (63-48) fell to 2 1/2 games back in the second wild card. They’ve scored three runs or less in 19 of their last 27 games since July 1. They’ve won just five of those games.
“We keep playing the same old record over and over, for those of you who know what records are,” M’s manager Scott Servais said.
Desperate for a victory to stop the current stretch of losing, the Mariners hoped that sending their best pitcher to the mound against the team he dominated earlier this season in Toronto would carry them to victory.
“I didn’t have very good stuff tonight,” Paxton said. “Breaking stuff wasn’t very good. Location wasn’t very good. I really had to grind.”
Paxton wasn’t at his no-hit level like on May 8. But even if he had been close, even if he allowed only one run on the night, it wouldn’t have been enough. Instead, he allowed three runs in seven innings, taking the defeat.
“Pax did his job,” Servais said. “You go seven innings and keep us in the ballgame, but again we really struggled to get anything going offensively.”
The Mariners had one base runner in the first six innings – a leadoff walk by Nelson Cruz to start the second. Otherwise, Estrada shut them down, using his fluttering changeup and finding just enough of the plate with his low-90s fastball to entice Seattle’s hitters to take hacks at pitches that were hittable, but not drivable. The Mariners, many more than eager to not get cheated in an at-bat, were willing to swing early and swing often.
“Estrada was back and forth with the changeup and the high fastball,” Servais said. “That’s what he does. And you know going into the game that’s what he does. He’s been around the league for a while. We just didn’t make any adjustments with it and we had a tough time.”
Estrada cruised through six innings, getting plenty of soft contact. But in the seventh, Denard Span drove a ball to the gap in right-center that had to be run down by Randall Grichuk. Haniger then pounced on a 0-1 cutter for the first hit. Unfazed by having a runner on first, Estrada got Cruz to ground out to shortstop and Kyle Seager to pop out in foul territory.
“He made some pitches, no doubt,” Servais said. “But what he know what he has and he still had us off balance all night. He threw the ball pretty good, but it’s been a struggle offensively. We have to find a way to put some more pressure on the other team. We haven’t done a good job of it here and obviously that’s why we’ve lost the last five.”
It was a battle for Paxton (9-5) much of the night. He worked seven innings, allowing three runs on eight hits with a walk and seven strikeouts. His command, particularly with his breaking pitches, was less than optimal, allowing Toronto hitters to cheat fastballs for hard contact.
“They knew I knew I didn’t have my good breaking stuff tonight,” he said. “Nothing was very sharp. It was all kind of just rolling into the zone and I think that allows them to not have to respect that pitch as much and just cheat on the fastball.”
There were signs of the Paxton of his previous outings, specifically the second, fourth and sixth, when he worked 1-2-3 frames and racked up five strikeouts. But in the odd innings, the Blue Jays had base runners and pressure on Paxton. In the third, Travis fought off multiple fastballs before handling a 97-mph heater and sending a single up the middle to score a pair of runs for a 2-0 lead.
Paxton’s third run allowed came in the fifth when Aledmys Diaz smoked a 1-0 curveball over the wall in left-center for a solo homer and a 3-0 lead.
For all the inconsistencies with his off-speed and an amassing pitch count, Paxton used four inning-ending double plays to give the Mariners seven innings on a night when many would bow out after four.
“The double plays were huge,” Paxton said. “It definitely gave me the chance to go seven.”
The Blue Jays pushed the lead to 4-0 against Paxton’s replacement, right-hander Sam Tuivailala. Former Mariner Justin Smoak punched a run-scoring single through the right side to score Kevin Pillar.
Seattle’s lone run came in the eighth. Estrada walked Ryon Healy to start the inning, which ended his outing. Healy later came around to score on pinch hitter Chris Herrmann’s sacrifice fly to center.
The Blue Jays tacked on another run on back-to-back doubles off James Pazos.
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