If you’d told me yesterday that James Paxton would throw a no-hitter tonight I may have done a few things differently. I might have set myself up at my kitchen table at home, with consistent wifi and a fully-charged laptop. Instead I’m sitting in the small lobby of my gym, errant beads of sweat, and yes, okay, a few tears, too, plopping onto the faux leather chair. I’m frantic, consumed by a strange fear that if I don’t write and publish this as soon as possible it won’t be real.
James Alston Paxton, who was drafted by the Mariners in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, while he was playing with the Grand Prairie AirHogs of the American Association of Independent Baseball, threw a no-hitter.
Pax got off to a strong start, striking out Josh Donaldson and Teoscar Hernández, and getting Yangervis Solarte to line out to Dee Gordon in center. 11 pitches.
He worked swiftly through the second, inducing weak contact from Justin Smoak, Kevin Pillar, and Russell Martin. 9 pitches.
Two walks, to Kendrys Morales and nine-hitter Anthony Alford didn’t bode well, but it was difficult to be too upset with Pax. 20 pitches.
The fourth inning saw the only double play the Blue Jays would hit into, an inning-ender from Kevin Pillar on one of Paxton’s brutal knuckle curves. 11 pitches.
Just six pitches in the fifth, and suddenly I was doing a double take at the ROOT Sports graphic in the bottom righthand corner of the screen. It still felt early. We’d experienced heartbreak with James before.
At this point it felt as though everyone was focused on the magic Paxton was weaving. The Mariners hitters had cobbled together five runs off of a Robinson Canó groundout, Nelson Cruz single, Mike Zunino two run bomb, and Mitch Haniger sac fly. But after the fifth inning their bats shut down. Fortunately for Paxton, though, their defense did not.
Have we talked enough about this Mariners defense? I don’t think we have, but after tonight we won’t be the only ones discussing it.
Ryon Healy displayed athleticism at first base, the likes of which Mariners fans haven’t seen in decades. Ben Gamel caught a ball at the fence with both hands, his body contorted in a way that took five years off my life. Dee Gordon took a knee on a fly ball in center, because when you’re in the presence of royalty that’s just what you do.
And, because apparently no 21st-century Mariners no-hitter is complete without a spectacular Kyle Seager defensive play, Seager stopped our hearts and Kevin Pillar’s 109 MPH grounder down the third base line in the seventh.
The sixth and seventh innings came and went, and it felt like Paxton had really settled into a groove. He looked confident, poised, our utterly-unflappable (it’s an eagle pun, get it?) ace. Paxton has spoken about the strength he gains as he goes deeper into games, and it’s evident in his outings - today his fastball didn’t even hit 98 until the seventh - but often his pitch count will have soared too high for him to go too deep into the game. Not today.
He threw his 93rd pitch of the game to Anthony Alford, a 95 MPH fastball that Alford popped out to Haniger in foul territory. Pitches 94, 95, and 96 came in quick succession against Hernández who swung right over 97 MPH down the middle. He hit 100 MPH in his second pitch to Donaldson, a four-seamer dotting the edge of the plate, then threw the same pitch, in the same location, just a tick slower - 99 MPH for his 99th pitch of the night, and the rest is history.
My hands are still shaking. My legs are shaking, too, though that may be because I hopped on the treadmill at the top of the second inning and after the fifth inning I promised James and myself that I’d stay put until he gave me reason to stop running.
Tomorrow there will be exhaustive recaps of each out of this game, detailed explorations of his spin-rate and the movement of his knuckle curve, and exaltations about the incredible game Zunino called. There will also be another baseball game because, for as much as we may want to cling to a pure moment, time trudges on, pulling us along. But we carry those moments with us forever, or at least until time finally trudges onward without us.