70 years ago today, Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson broke into the major leagues wearing #42.
20 years ago today, George Kenneth “Ken” Griffey Jr. inverted the #24 on his Seattle Mariners uniform, and played the game that day wearing Jackie’s number. He later petitioned the league office with the suggestion that everyone in baseball should wear #42 on Jackie Robinson Day.
Sure enough, the rest is history.
Jackie Robinson Day is a special day in Seattle Mariners history, and it’s a special day in American history. And on this particular Jackie Robinson Day, James Alston Paxton, wearing #42, decided to add a little Canadian history to boot.
As it happens, there was a substantial stretch early on in his career when I thought the young lefty from Ladner, British Columbia looked more sleepy Basset Hound than major league pitcher.
Some say you can’t teach an old sleepy Basset Hound new tricks. But somewhere along the line, this old sleepy Basset Hound learned how to throw 97 MPH.
Paxton was outstanding in his first two starts of the season, pounding out first-pitch strikes, attacking hitters with his elevated fastball, baffling hitters with his devastating knuckle-curve, and mixing in the occasional totally nasty slider pretty much just because he could. That tradition continued tonight.
Carlos Gomez, hitting leadoff for the Rangers, drew a walk in his first plate appearance. That was literally as nervous as I got the whole game, because Paxton proceeded to retire his next eight batters in a row.
His fastball fiery, and his knuckle-curve...knasty...?, Paxton took a no-hit bid into the 6th, when Joey Gallo, filling in at 3rd base for an injured Adrián Beltré to start the season, beat the shift on a 3-2 fastball down the pipe.
I want to blame Adrián Beltré for this. Somehow, some way, I feel like he is responsible. But I digress.
Gallo then swiped third on a wild pitch; he was actually called out on the field after Mike Zunino recovered and threw to Kyle Seager who applied the tag, but after a lengthy review, the original call was overturned.
The Rangers had a runner on third with only one out. The score was tied 0-0. This did not bother Paxton.
He struck out Delino DeShields, getting him to chase on a slider in the dirt. The inning ended when Carlos Gomez decided for some reason it would be a good idea to bunt, which he did, popping the ball directly into the glove of a charging Kyle Seager.
To that point, the Mariners offense had been similarly stymied by Andrew Cashner in his first start of the year, rounding out the veteran/bearded/should-be-beatable bottom of the Rangers rotation. The big righty looked solid enough—until the bottom of the 6th.
Mitch Haniger led off with a single past Elvis Andrus at short, extending his hitting streak to 9 games. Robinson Canó picked on Andrus some more, reaching on a hard hit ball up the middle the Ranger shortstop couldn’t handle.
Cruz walked on 5 pitches, loading the bases. Then up stepped young Kyle Seager, who, as Dave Sims and Mike Blowers announced, was due.
RISPonsive .... Kyle Seager with a single through the right side to score two runs. Mariners lead 2-0— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) April 16, 2017
Haniger and Canó came around to score, grabbing the lead for the Mariners. A pitching change followed, and Mike Hauschild came in from the bullpen to face Taylor Motter.
I wrote recently that Motter is not going to lead the Mariners in home runs this year. It appears he is doing everything in his power to prove me wrong.
After Motter’s 3-run blast, Leonys Martín continued the fun, going the opposite way with a double into left. Unfortunately Zunino struck out on a 3-2 count for the final out (leaving yet another runner stranded in scoring position, but we won’t dwell on that, because that would be mean) but not before the M’s had tallied 5 beautiful runs.
Paxton picked up right where he left off, cruising through the 7th inning before getting into a spot of trouble in the 8th—surrendering his second hit of the game followed by a very long foul ball off the bat of Ryan Rua—but a couple of strikeouts later, he was walking back to the dugout after a season-high 114 pitches to a standing ovation.
Nick Vincent kept the fire alive, striking out the side in the 9th to seal the deal.
Pax has now put together 21 scoreless innings to start 2017—the longest scoreless streak in Mariner history to start the season. Tonight, the Mariners offense gave him 5 in support. These were runs our hero did not need—but they were runs he deserved.
Because today, #42 couldn’t have pitched better.
The big lefty was straight filthy tonight.— Mariners (@Mariners) April 16, 2017
Paxton's line: 8.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 9 K. pic.twitter.com/U1mQBKf1wA
8 innings, 9 strikeouts, 2 hits, 1 walk, 0 runs, and one very happy recapper. He looks pretty dapper in the Swelmet, too.
Happy Jackie Robinson Day. Happy Paxton Day. And go M’s.