SEATTLE – The moment the pitch left his hand, James Paxton knew trouble loomed. His best hope was that the badly misplaced 87-mph cutter would be fouled off or not squared up on the barrel of a bat.
It wasn’t an unreasonable ask considering who was at the plate – Colorado’s No. 9 hitter Noel Cuevas, a speed-first, fourth outfielder in his first season in the big leagues who had hit just one homer all season despite playing his home games at Coors Field.
With one out and runners on first and second in the seventh inning of a tie game, Cuevas actually tried to put down a bunt on the first pitch of his at-bat, but it went foul.
A bunt single would have been a far better outcome for the Mariners because Cuevas didn’t miss the down-the-middle mistake from Paxton, scalding the ball into the visitors’ bullpen in left field.
That unlikely three-run blast off their ace broke a tie and dimmed the Mariners’ victory hopes in what would eventually be a 5-1 defeat Saturday afternoon at Safeco Field.
“I hung it,” Paxton said. “It was a pitch in the middle and he didn’t miss it. It was just a bad pitch and it cost us the game. It was unfortunate.”
To be fair to Paxton, scoring just one run for the second consecutive game also cost the Mariners.
“We’ve been stymied a little bit offensively,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “We haven’t done much as far as getting a big hit with runners in scoring position.”
For the first time since the beginning of their brutal road trip to the East Coast in June, the Mariners have lost back-to-back games. They are now 56-34. The defeat ensured a series loss, Seattle’s first at home since May 4-6 against the Angels.
“We still have a chance to have a good homestand,” Servais said. “I can’t remember the last time we lost the first two games of a series at home. We’ve been that good at home. We’ll get after it tomorrow. Get to the off day and get out on the road before the All-Star break.”
That the series defeat occurred when Paxton was on the mound and throwing with some level of success made it that much worse.
“I thought his stuff was as good as it has been all year,” Servais said. “He made a mistake. It does happen. These guys aren’t perfect even though Pax has been that good at times. You don’t see those mistakes.”
Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre had come to the mound just before the at-bat with Cuevas to discuss a few things with Paxton.
“It was just about what we wanted to do right there,” Paxton said. “We wanted the ball on the ground. So we wanted to go with the backfoot cutters or fastballs up to try and get an infield pop-up. I went with the cutter trying to get it to his backfoot and I just hung it and left it over the middle. I made a mistake and he didn’t miss.”
How often does a mistake pitch like that get squared up that well by a hitter?
“Not that often,” Paxton said. “But he did his job. He’s supposed to hit that pitch and he did.”
That Cuevas came to the plate in that situation was a little galling for Servais. Paxton retired Carlos Gonzales to start the inning and appeared to have Pat Valaika struck out on a check swing. On an appeal, however, first-base umpire Joe West ruled Valaika didn’t go around. It drew more than a few comments and gestures from the Mariners’ bench.
Valaika later drew a walk. Then Gerardo Parra singled on a ground ball through the right side to bring up Cuevas.
“I thought we had the guy struck out and didn’t get the call,” Servais said.
Did Paxton think Valaika swung at the pitch?
“I thought he did, but obviously Joe didn’t think so,” Paxton said. “He makes the call and not me, but I want that right there. You have to move on.”
Paxton finished out the seventh to end his outing. He allowed the four runs on seven hits with a walk and nine strikeouts.
He and fellow talented left-hander Kyle Freeland, the Rockies’ starter, dueled through the first five innings, allowing one run each.
The Rockies loaded the bases with no outs in the third on three consecutive singles, but Paxton pitched out of the jam, getting DJ LeMahieu to fly out and striking out Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado. The Rockies grabbed a 1-0 lead in the fourth on a run-scoring single from Carlos Gonzales.
Seattle answered in the fifth with a solo homer from Jean Segura off of Freeland.
The Mariners’ offense scattered seven hits, but couldn’t capitalize on some walks from Freeland. Seattle was just 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position and left eight runners on base.
Reliever Juan Nicasio entered the game in the top of the ninth and allowed another run.
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