Today, the Mariners won a ballgame. James Paxton was on the mound, adjustments were made, home runs were hit, balls were caught, and from the first pitch to the final out, the action was intense.
Let’s start with the Mariners’ offense. Nathan Eovaldi started the game on the hill for the Rays making use of his splitter, cutter, and fastball, which was averaging 97 mph. Dee Gordon and Jean Segura battled Eovaldi at the start of the game, each getting him to throw seven and six pitches, respectively, but they both flew out to end their contests. Mitch Haniger, batting third was out on four pitches, the last of which was an 89mph splitter in the dirt that Mitch didn’t read well enough to not swing. The top of the lineup continued to falter throughout the game, going 0-12 with two strikeouts from Haniger and several lineouts and grounds that just couldn’t find their way through the Rays defense.
Luckily, this Mariners lineup isn’t fully dependent on the top three of the order as you all know. Leading off the second inning, Nelson Cruz stepped into the batters box poised as ever. He took a pitch that could have been a ball but was called a strike. He took another pitch that could have been a strike but was called a ball, low in the zone. After looking at two pitches, not having wasted an ounce of energy, Cruz took a 92mph cutter in the middle of the zone and sent it screaming into the stands at 112 mph, giving the Mariners the lead in the top of the second.
Eovaldi then induced an unfortunate flyout for Kyle Seager, who had taken the Rays starter for eleven pitches on the at-bat but came up short. Eovaldi then retired Denard Span on a groundout and struck out Ryon Healy on five pitches. Through two innings, Eovaldi was at 42 pitches which seemed promising, but despite raising the opponents pitch count, the Mariners offense wouldn’t catch a break until the 6th inning.
James Paxton on the other hand, was not facing the troubles that plagued Eovaldi’s pitch count, at least not in the first two innings. The Big Maple retired the first six batters of the match in order, striking out four of the six using mostly his well located mid-90s fastball and the occasional cutter and curveball. Through those two innings, he needed only 25 pitches, 19 of which went in for strikes.
But Paxton ran into trouble midway through his outing. In the bottom of the third, the Rays aptly named right fielder Johnny Field lined a James Paxton cutter to left field that dribbled directly into the stands for a ground-rule double. Rob Refsnyder followed suit with a flyball to Mitch Haniger, etching the first out of the inning but advancing Field to third. With Mallex Smith batting, Paxton threw a low cutter that Smith was just able to get a piece of for a ground ball that bounced way up over Paxton’s head, giving Field enough time to score the tying run. Paxton quickly retaliated, striking out Joey Wendle with three fastballs after falling behind in the count 2-0.
Despite the phenomenal first two innings Paxton pitched and the way he was able to get out of the third, the Canadian began to miss his spots and his fastball wasn’t leaving the low-to-mid 90s range it usually does after he warms up. Still, Paxton was fearless going into the fourth inning. As per usual, he came in with his first pitch strike strategy, but that strategy was ineffective against C.J. Cron, who swung at the 93mph fastball in the zone and sent it into the stands for the Rays’ go-ahead run, the 10th home run Paxton has allowed this season. The next batter, Matt Duffy, also made contact on the first pitch for a double. Wilson Ramos then grounded out, allowing Duffy to advance to third. Rookie Jake Bauers capitalized on Paxton’s faulty inning and made contact on a fastball outside of the zone for an RBI double. After a quick mound visit, Christian Arroyo grounded to Jean Segura. Bauers made a rookie baserunning mistake and tried to run to third base, but with a quick flip by Segura to Seager, Bauers was out on the fielder’s choice. Johnny Field then punched out on five pitches. Paxton was able to get out of the inning, albeit heavily rattled.
But Paxton does what all great athletes do and reflected on his approach. In between innings, he could be seen talking mechanics with those around him, gesturing with his hands and focusing on his release of the ball. He went on to pitch the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings, allowing only one hit and striking out four batters, making it his fifth start this season with 10 or more strikeouts. When he wasn’t racking up the K’s over the plate, his defense made sure to have his back.
And once Paxton came to life, the offense followed in his footsteps. After his stellar diving catch, Ben “Full-Extension” Gamel came up to plate to start the sixth inning and scratched off a liner to right field for a leadoff single. Mike Zunino, who struck out looking in the third inning, looked like he was about to strikeout once again. He took a called first strike from Eovaldi, then fouled off a 98mph fastball in the middle. But he worked his way through the count, eyeing three balls and then fouling off another pitch before blasting this beauty.
With the game now tied, Eovaldi was now done, replaced by Chaz Roe, who retired Gordon, Segura, and Haniger in order, despite them fighting him off. Soon after in the seventh inning, José Alvarado came in to replace Roe and began the inning by ever-so-nicely giving a base to Nelson Cruz on four pitches. Kyle Seager, not to be outdone by Mike Zunino, took three balls and a called strike before belting a high 96mph fastball to right field, effectively giving the M’s the lead in the seventh inning. Alvarado composed himself then and retired Span, Healy, and Gamel to end the frame.
In the 8th inning, James Paxton handed the ball over to his fellow Mariner and namesake James Pazos, who began the inning with a strikeout to the pitch-chasing Carlos Gómez, but later allowed a single to Joey Wendle and was promptly replaced by former Ray Álex Colomé. Colomé struggled against his former teammates, issuing a walk to C.J. Cron. After a forceout by Matt Duffy that allowed Joey Wendle to advance to third base, the Rays remembered they were playing against the Mariners and figured they had to make this a one run game. With a hit by Wilson Ramos, they did just that, scoring Wendle to bring the M’s lead down to a single run at 5-4 to start the ninth.
The M’s came up short at the top of the frame. They managed to ink a single and a walk off of Sergio Romo with two outs, but a Ryon Healy groundout ended their chance at widening their lead.
Edwin Díaz came in to close out both the game and the series. Six pitches later, Díaz found himself with two outs and Johnny Field at first base, who singled off of one of his sliders. Carlos Gómez then came up to bat against the young closer. Gómez’s power could easily have made this a sour day for the Mariners. He took five pitches and then swung at a fastball up over the middle of the plate. The bat cracked at the contact and the ball rose high into the air.
And then this happened:
With Haniger’s fumbling of the ball, the Rays third base coach directed Johnny Field to run home from first base, effectively sealing his fate as the baserunner was out by a mile and a half. Much like Field, the Mariners can now run home as well, but they’ll be running home to face the Angels in Seattle, carrying with them another win.