M’s ace was outstanding, allowing just two runs on three hits with a walk and eight strikeouts to improve to 3-1.
Until they told him otherwise — and he didn’t want to hear otherwise from anyone — James Paxton was pitching that ninth inning and finishing up what he started on Saturday night.
A pitch count of 104? That’s not a problem. He believes he’s conditioned and prepared himself to throw 125 if needed.
As Paxton sat in the dugout, watching the bottom of the eighth, manager Scott Servais never approached to tell him his night was done.
Detroit @ Mariners, 1:10 p.m., ROOT Sports
Even as Ryan Cook warmed in the bullpen, nobody told Paxton his night was over. The ninth inning was his, and the big lefty owned it.
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As he had done the previous three innings, Paxton worked a 1-2-3 ninth, going the distance in the Mariners’ decisive 7-2 win over the Tigers.
“I just stayed focused,” said Paxton, who threw 117 pitches. “I was ready to go. I wasn’t going to change anything unless they came up to me and wanted me to be done. I was excited to go out and pitch it.”
Servais understood the moment and trusted his best pitcher beyond a pitch-count number.
“You are looking at the stuff and how he’s handling it and how the hitters are reacting to it,” Servais said. “And there’s also times when the pitcher on the mound feels it and he’s sniffing the finish line and you want to give him every opportunity to get there. I was excited to do that tonight.”
Paxton believes pushing through that threshold is necessary.
“I like to be able to get to that 115 to 120 pitch count,” he said. “I condition myself for it, knowing that at some point we are probably going to need it during the season. To get it in a game like that now, it’s good.”
The crowd of 35,739 rose to its feet as he emerged from the M’s dugout and headed to the mound to start the top of the ninth. It was his first game back in Seattle since throwing a no-hitter on May 8 against the Blue Jays, and while he allowed hits and runs in this outing, he also delivered an outing typical of an ace. They recognized it.
“It was really cool that I could go out there and get the nine innings with everyone here supporting me,” he said.
He got Leonys Martin to ground out for the first out. Guillermo Heredia ran down a deep fly in center for the second out. The final out was a Nic Castellanos ground ball to third that Kyle Seager handled with ease. It didn’t have the celebration of the no-hitter, but complete games aren’t common any more.
“When I shook his hand after the game, he said, ‘You let me go,’ and I said, ‘You earned it,’ ” Servais said. “He really did. In the seventh, you could see he had the feeling he could finish it, so why not? Let him go.”
On Monday, Paxton was so sick with food poisoning that he was sent home from Safeco Field. With each passing day, he was able to eat a little more and build back strength. He showed no signs of the illness or his interrupted routine in the late innings, retiring the last 15 batters he faced.
“He got better throughout the game,” said catcher Mike Zunino. “It just shows what he’s becoming as a pitcher. He’s that guy you want every fifth day to take you deep into ballgames. Whether he has his best stuff or not, he can do that now.”
His teammates provided him plenty of run support with a balanced attack.
The Mariners broke the game open in the sixth inning, largely against the Tigers bullpen — a unit they’ve manhandled of late.
Up 3-2, Seattle scored four runs in the frame to put it out of reach. Mike Zunino’s RBI single to right-center scored the first run and Jean Segura’s sacrifice fly to right scored the fourth run. The two runs between came in an unusual way. Well, maybe it’s usual for someone with Dee Gordon’s speed.
With the bases loaded, Gordon hit a hard one-hopper back at the mound. The ball bounced off pitcher Artie Lewicki’s glove and past surprised second baseman Dixon Machado, who made an awkward falling attempt to knock it down. The ball rolled slowly into shallow right field to score two runners. Gordon never slowed down out of the box and slid into second with a double that might have traveled 120 feet, rolling most of the way.
“Dee Gordon is really fast,” Servais said. “That ball barely made it to the outfield grass and he got to second base. Not many guys in this league can do that.”
Paxton’s first run allowed came in the second inning when veteran designated hitter Victor Martinez yanked a fastball over the wall in left field.
The Tigers’ other run came in the fifth. John Hicks led off the inning with a bloop double, eventually scoring on Grayson Greiner’s sacrifice fly to center. The inning might have gotten worse with a runner on second and one out, but Mitch Haniger made sure that didn’t happen. On a pop fly headed for the stands in foul territory off right field, Haniger never hesitated as he neared the wall, leaping and grabbing the ball as he timbled back-first into the stands.
“It probably looked worse than it was,” Haniger said. “I hit my elbow, back, little bit of my head, but not too bad.”
The Mariners jumped on Tigers starter Mike Fiers early. Segura smashed a solo homer to center field in the first inning. The suddenly hot-hitting Ben Gamel led off the second inning with his first homer of the year.