ST. LOUIS – Anyone expecting James Paxton to be intimidated by a huge crowd and playoff-type environment would have been sorely disappointed.
It turns out Paxton, in only his second career start Saturday night, didn’t even realize how big the Busch Stadium crowd actually was. Not that anyone heard much cheering from the 41,374 fans during a 4-1 win by Paxton and a Mariners squad that held the St. Louis Cardinals to just three hits all night.
“I was really just kind of locked in on the catcher,” said Paxton, who allowed two singles over six scoreless innings. “I didn’t really hear the crowd much. I kind of noticed how many people were there after they took me out of the game.
“I said to somebody, ‘Wow, there’re a lot of people here, huh?’ I just kind of stayed locked in and focused on what was going on.”
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Paxton became the first Mariners pitcher since Erik Hanson in 1988 to allow just one earned run over two inaugural career starts of at least six innings apiece.
“He’s pitching in a very mature fashion for someone that’s only had a couple of starts,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “He’s pitching with a great deal of confidence and seems to be calm out there.”
And while Paxton was shutting down the first-place Cardinals, the Mariners finally got their “small ball” act together just long enough to end their five-game losing streak.
A leadoff single by Dustin Ackley in the fifth off previously unbeaten rookie starter Michael Wacha was followed by a four-pitch walk to Paxton. Both moved up on a Brad Miller bunt and scored on an ensuing double by Franklin Gutierrez.
Kendrys Morales hit a solo homer in the eighth off relief pitcher Tyler Lyons to make it 3-0, and the teams traded runs from there before Danny Farquhar closed out the ninth. Wacha was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth and took his first loss after coming in 3-0 with a 2.72 earned-run average.
Paxton hadn’t swung a bat in an actual game since age 13 in his hometown of Ladner, B.C. He said he drew a walk in that prior plate appearance as well and didn’t really know what to do when he got on base again this time around.
“It was a little nerve-wracking,’’ he said. “I didn’t really know what to do with the bat after I got walked. I just dropped it and then told the umpire when I was at second base that I hadn’t run the bases in about 11 years, so he gave me a little chuckle.”
Paxton said he tried to keep an eye on whatever Ackley did in front of him when running the bases. His teammates kidded him about his “rounding of third base” on the Gutierrez double.
That baserunning was about the only time Paxton needed to break a sweat. One of the two singles he allowed was a tapper by Wacha in the third inning that became an infield hit.
Paxton walked the ensuing batter to put two on, but escaped on a ground out. The only other scoring threat against him came in the fifth after a leadoff single by David Freese and a two-out walk.
But Paxton got Matt Carpenter to swing through a high fastball for his fifth and final strikeout of the night after working him down in the zone earlier on.
“I think it helps when I do that, go up in the zone and get guys to swing,” he said. “I’ve got that angle kind of going down in the zone and then, they’re not expecting me to come up in the zone. So, I try to spend most of the night at the knees so when I do come up, I think I kind of catch them off guard a bit.”
The Mariners also seemed to catch the Cardinals off-guard by actually executing in some fundamental situations. Seattle failed on four occasions Friday to get a bunt down — and once more in this game — before Miller finally executed in the fifth.
Wacha might have had a play at second base on Paxton, but seemed a bit confused and wound up settling for the out at first.
St. Louis finally scored when Carpenter doubled against Charlie Furbush in the eighth and later came home on a wild pitch. But the Mariners used some small ball again in the ninth when Ackley walked, Abraham Almonte dribbled an infield single up the first-base line and both advanced on a wild pitch.
Carlos Triunfel then hit a sacrifice fly to score Ackley for a 4-1 lead.
“It’s huge,” Ackley said of doing the little things right. “I think anytime you can put pressure on the defense, good things happen.”
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com. On Twitter @gbakermariners. Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners