The Mariners ace was otherworldly with a 16-strikeout performance, and though he might not repeat that soon, his dominance could just be starting.
You knew that was down there somewhere. It had been sitting dormant, even as he emerged as the Mariners’ undisputed ace.
James Paxton has baffled, frustrated and foiled lineups for a few years now. Wednesday was the day he completely owned one.
Forget about the 3-2 loss to the A’s for a second. Focus on Paxton’s line instead: seven innings, five hits, one walk, no runs and 16 K’s. That’s gorgeous in its own right. But when you add the 80 strikes compared to the 25 balls, it becomes supermodel-esque.
Most people who were at Safeco Field Wednesday will remember how consistently Paxton delivered on their “K!” chants. Fourteen of his 16 strikeouts — an MLB high this season — came on swings and misses.
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What was equally impressive, however, were the pitches the Canadian threw before sending batters back to the dugout. He simply wouldn’t make any mistakes.
Of the first 17 hitters Paxton faced Wednesday, 15 faced an 0-1 count. An 0-2 count followed most of the time, which consistently left them at the southpaw’s mercy.
At one point in the seventh inning, Paxton had 15 strikeouts while throwing just 19 balls. That isn’t “dealing” — that’s destroying.
“It was filthy. He was nasty from the beginning of the game,” said teammate Felix Hernandez, who’s had his fair share of pitching gems. “I was just watching the reactions from the hitters. They had no chance.”
As would be expected, Paxton wasn’t in a celebratory mood after the game. When you fan 16 hitters and don’t give up a run, you expect to have a “W” next to your name.
But like everyone in the stadium, he knew he had just thrown the game of his career and was able to appreciate the moment.
“It’s something I’ve been working towards — finding my rhythm and delivery — and it kind of clicked tonight,” said Paxton, who said his fastball was the best it had ever been in his career. “Afterward, guys were telling me how awesome it was and how fun it was to watch and that they’d never seen guys swing through that many heaters, so that was pretty cool.”
Before Wednesday, Paxton had never tallied more than 10 strikeouts. And his 5.12 ERA heading into the game popped off the page for all the wrong reasons.
So it was monumental for him to throw seven scoreless innings and wow the fans with 16 K’s — which is fourth all-time for the Mariners. Those in attendance might not have seen history, but they did see mastery.
Mixing in cutters and sliders with an immaculate heater, Paxton dominated Oakland from the opening frame.
Had he not walked Jonathan Lucroy, who had two strikes on him, in the seventh, his pitch count might have been low enough for him to return in the eighth.
Instead, Juan Nicasio gave up a two-run homer in the eighth, Edwin Diaz allowed a homer on his first pitch in the ninth, and the A’s evened the series at 1-1.
No blame was even hinted at after the game. Nicasio has been stellar all year, and Diaz was 12 for 12 in save opportunities before Wednesday.
Still, it was a buzz kill — but fans should still be buzzing about Paxton.
It wouldn’t be fair to expect him to put up a repeat performance any time soon, but this could be indicative of dominance to come. Paxton said that he took a different approach to the game Wednesday and wasn’t trying to be perfect on every pitch.
Maybe that’s the key. No one disputes the other-worldly talent the man has — it’s just a matter of how he applies it.
Mariners manager Scott Servais, like anyone else in a Seattle uniform, lauded Paxton on Wednesday. He added that they’re going to need him to continue to excel if they’re going to make the playoffs.
Don’t be surprised if we see more of this. Expectations are great for Paxton, but as he showed Wednesday, those expectations are warranted.