Paxton had his first bad start of the season and Seattle lost 9-6. The Mariners are now 1-7 on the road.
OAKLAND, Calif. — It was going to happen at some point this season, and likely in his next few outings. James Paxton was going to stop pitching like Canada’s version of Sandy Koufax and turn into a mortal for at least one game.
Regression to the mean in baseball is the ultimate opponent for any player, and it rarely loses. The odds of Paxton continuing to put up scoreless inning after scoreless inning would grow slimmer with each one he notched.
The question, then, would be: Could the Mariners win a game when Paxton wasn’t tossing six shutout innings of dominance?
Mariners @ Oakland, 7:05 p.m., ROOT Sports
That inescapable moment came Thursday night against an unremarkable Oakland A’s team, and the Mariners failed in a 9-6 loss.
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Paxton was nothing like the pitcher of his first three outings. He couldn’t locate his fastball or keep hitters off it with his breaking pitches. He pitched just 41/3 innings, giving up five runs on nine hits with a walk and eight strikeouts. Coming into the game, he’d given up just eight hits in 21 innings.
“You aren’t going to keep something going like that all year long,” Paxton said. “You are going to have days like today, and I just didn’t have it. I will bounce back time next time.”
Nonetheless, this was still a winnable game for the Mariners. But two costly errors, an inability to add on to an early lead and bullpen failures late turned into a forgettable defeat.
Seattle thus fell to 1-7 on the road.
“We didn’t play a particularly clean game,” manager Scott Servais said.
The Mariners seemed poised to pile up a plethora of runs. They were facing 32-year-old right-hander Cesar Valdez, who was called up from Class AAA Nashville to make the start. The last time he pitched in the big leagues was in June 2010, when M’s closer Edwin Diaz was 16 years old.
Since then he’s bounced around, pitching for almost any team in any league that would give him a uniform and a chance.
Seattle treated him as such, scoring three runs in the first two innings. But Valdez was able to get through four more innings without further damage.
“I thought it was going to be a good night for our offense the way we started it,” Servais said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t keep it going. We got three runs, but it probably should have been three or four (more).”
Still, with an early 3-0 lead, Paxton had everything set up to attack hitters without fear and keep rolling. But it didn’t happen.
His scoreless streak, which was at 21 innings coming into the start, reached 23 after two scoreless frames. But it all fell apart in the third inning. Three straight singles would yield his first run allowed, with Adam Rosales lining a pitch into right to score Jaff Decker.
Then the Mariners got hit with some bad luck. Mitch Haniger’s throw in from right field to shortstop Taylor Motter hit off the second-base bag and bounced back into the outfield, allowing Rajai Davis to race home.
“I probably should’ve went and caught it,” Motter said. “Hard field and I was expecting a hop. It’s my fault.”
Paxton came back to strike out the next two batters and appeared ready to get out with a lead. But Ryon Healy laced a double down the left-field line to tie it at 3.
“I wasn’t landing good curveballs for strikes, so they just started looking for fastballs,” Paxton said. “I wasn’t able to hit my spots with it tonight.”
Paxton was chased two innings later.
Down 5-3, the Mariners tied the game in the sixth inning. Motter hammered a first-pitch fastball over the wall in center field to tie the score at 5.
But the bullpen torpedoed the victory hopes. Evan Scribner gave up a run in the bottom half of the inning, then to put the Mariners down 6-5.
And Dan Altavilla let the game get out of reach in the seventh, issuing a pair of one-out walks and serving up a three-run homer to Trevor Plouffe to make it 9-5.