For years, the experience of watching a Mariner game has been dichotomous. About four out of five games have been uncertain. Sometimes we’d have a Roenis Elias throwing a complete-game shutout. Sometimes we’d have a Hector Noesi absolutely bombing it in the first inning. Most often, we’d have a Blake Beaven throwing five or six mediocre innings and most often, they wouldn’t be enough.
About one out of five games have been must-see experiences. When Felix Hernandez has taken the mound, there’s always been a sense of “what if?” What if this is the game that he finally throws a no-no? A perfect game? Even just a display of pitching so masterful that it’s just plain fun to watch? When he finally did throw a perfect game in 2012, it felt like it had been inevitable for years. In the midst of dark and dismal 90+ loss seasons, Felix starts have been something to look forward to every week.
Felix isn’t that guy anymore. As a Mariner fan, it’s easy to say that we’ve been unlucky. We’ve certainly been lucky to have Felix. And we’re especially lucky now that, with Felix on the downswing in his career, we have another pitcher like Felix. No, James Paxton isn’t quite on the level of peak Felix. But his starts are just as much of a must-see experience as Felix’s were.
James Paxton started out the game red hot. He struck out Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi to start the game, and he only got better from there. When facing Betts, Paxton topped out at 96 MPH. Against Benintendi, he got up to 97.5. By the third inning, Paxton was hitting 99 MPH on his fastball, seemingly with ease.
After Paxton got through four innings, he was still perfect. And even though we’ve seen this before, even though starters get through three or four perfect innings all the time, there was a real sense of the “what if?” There was a real sense that James Paxton could keep going back out there and do something really special tonight.
Jackie Bradley hit a line drive single in the fifth inning to break up both the perfect game and the no-hitter. The crowd collectively exhaled. It wasn’t going to happen tonight. Despite that, Paxton still ended the night with seven scoreless innings, with a whopping 10 strikeouts against just four hits. No, he didn’t throw a no-no, but he did do something really special.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Mariners had a pretty good time against Eduardo Rodriguez. Kyle Seager started it off by continuing his “my bad April just lasted 3 months, I’m still good, I swear” tour with a dinger to dead center.
Ben Gamel followed that up with a triple (!), and he shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. Gamel scored on a Guillermo Heredia ground ball, and Heredia scored on a Jean Segura double. It’s nice to see Segura perform well after a terrible series against the Yankees. It was less nice to see Segura get beaned in the fourth inning. After all of his injury woes this year, any hint of a physical ailment he might have is worrying. I almost want to follow him around the city and be ready to catch him if he looks like he’s going to fall, but I think I might get in trouble for stalking.
The Mariners would score only once more in the fourth, but four runs was more than enough. Paxton’s seven marvelous innings made way for dominant outings from Nick Vincent and David Phelps, and that was the ballgame.
James Paxton wasn’t perfect tonight, but he was more than enough. If we’re lucky, James Paxton outings won’t have to be enough for us. The Maple Grove won’t be the only audible part of the ballpark most nights. We won’t have to think “well, at least something special might happen once every five days.”
But if it comes to that, James Paxton is still a joy to watch. He should be a joy to watch for years to come. And one gets the sense that it’s inevitable that one day, maybe soon, he’s going to do something even more amazing. That’s what makes a James Paxton start a must-watch experience.
James Paxton is ours and you can’t have him.