Way back in January, I wrote about James Paxton for the 40 in 40 series. The trope I went with was something about James Paxton as a tragic hero, a victim of circumstance and crossed stars and Scott Boras. I ended with this somewhat dire pronouncement for the 27-year-old lefty:
However, if he cannot remain healthy for a third consecutive year, Paxton may find himself, like Macbeth, out of time.
Sometimes it is good to revisit old things (several of the sentences in that piece make me cringe now as I see how hard I was working to be a Serious Baseball Writer) as a reminder of how far you’ve come. Paxton did wind up suffering another freak injury this year, when Andrelton Simmons hit a sharp comebacker that whacked him in the elbow and knocked him out of the rotation for several weeks. The same blister/fingernail issue arose to bother him again. But this year, James Paxton decided to clap back at Lady Luck. He couldn’t grip cutters and changeups? Fine. He would focus on his curveball and fastball. Close a door, nail a window shut; 2016 James Paxton will find a way to tunnel out.
Tonight, using mostly his fastball and curveball, Paxton was dominant over seven innings of work. It wasn’t just that he was facing the Twins; Paxton’s stuff tonight could have mowed through the most potent offenses. His fastball picked up velocity inning by inning, starting in the mid-90s and climbing from there, and he was able to locate it wherever he wanted. His curveball will haunt the Twins’ hitters dreams tonight; it arced like a rainbow before snapping in half and diving across the plate like an osprey hunting prey. When hitters did catch up to it they yanked it foul, but mostly they couldn’t catch it. He knocked down the Twins in order four times in seven innings and struck out every Twins batter except Kurt Suzuki. Paxton wasn’t behind a hitter in a count until the third inning, when Byron Buxton beat out a slow roller on the infield because Pax on the mound plus Lind at first base does not equal one Byron Buxton, by a long shot. Brian Dozier was next up and after seeing two fastballs at 96 (one that just missed outside), Pax threw a beautiful 81 mph curveball that Dozier could only gape at. Paxton then went back to the fastball at 97, which Dozier just got a piece of, then an 82 mph curveball that Dozier lunged at but knocked foul. Then Paxton threw another high and tight fastball to back Dozier, who was edging in, off the plate, and then delivered the kill with a beautiful 82 mph sweeping breaking ball that Dozier whiffed at like he was swinging a submarine sandwich with extra oil and vinegar. It was a brilliant piece of pitch sequencing that got him out of the inning, and it wasn’t the only time Paxton established clearly whose zone it was. In the fifth inning Escobar took two called strikes to begin the at-bat, then inched in over the plate as Paxton tried to get him to bite at a curveball in the dirt. Paxton answered with a 96 mph fastball that might have seared the lettering off Escobar’s jersey, and then came back with that curve at 82 mph for a swinging strikeout. Tonight was Paxton’s night, and he knew it:
That’s like, the James Paxton equivalent of a back handspring.
Really, a lot of the Mariners had good nights tonight:
After a sleepy first two innings by the Mariner offense, Canó started off the scoring by dinky-dumping a little bloop into the outfield, scoring Aoki from second. Then Nelson Cruz should have had a home run to put the Mariners up 3-0, but Byron Buxton is unfair. 98.3% route efficiency! It’s okay, though, because that’s one of the two things Twins fans have to enjoy about this game (the other being Miguel Sanó crushing a triple over the head of Ben Gamel who...did not have 98.3% route efficiency on his attempt), and also there were a couple other miscues in the game for the Twins defensively, like this on the RBI single by Zunino that scored the M’s second run and also this on the Cruz double that scored two more runs and oh good gracious what was this even (Yakety Sax music plays). The seventh inning took a good half an hour and featured three different Twins pitchers: Ryan O’Rourke; who was replaced by pitcher/True Detective extra J.T. Chargois, who threw exactly one pitch that Nelson Cruz crushed for a double; followed by Buddy Boshers, who looks like Kole Calhoun and Justin Smoak had a baby and decided Buddy Boshers was a good name for it. The Mariners offense exploded for six runs in the seventh, but Nelson Cruz was still mad about that home run Buxton stole and he was going to make Tommy Milone pay for it:
The Mariners would end up scoring ten runs, which is such a relief after the bats seemed to be starting their fall vacation early. Here’s hoping this represents the start of a new hot streak. But tonight belongs to Paxton, he who has risen from the ashes of his injury history and showed he is not Macbeth, but Macduff:
Awwww. So, that is not actually Paxton having a hand cramp. He is making the sign for “I love you” in ASL, to honor the Swelmet maker, Larry Anderson, who is a Deaf American, and had a special request for Manny:
AWWWW. You can read more about the Swelmet in Jesse Eldred’s great fanpost here. While we’re on the warm and fuzzy trip, tonight represented the first time Dan Altavilla’s Pennsylvania-based family have been able to see him pitch in the bigs (when the M’s were in Pittsburgh, they made the trip to see Dan’s pal Edwin Díaz pitch, but Dan wasn’t with the big club yet):
Look at those smiles! (Also, you can’t see in this pic, but Dan Sr. is rocking a pretty sweet Jackson Generals jacket here) Also pretty sweet: they got to see their kid strike out Brian Dozier on three pitches, nailing him on a high fastball for a swinging strike the stadium gun registered at 100 mph. Overall, tonight was a nice antidote to the crushing Toronto series and a reminder that, no matter how star-crossed one might feel, you can untwist the strands of your own narrative and make something new.