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A joyful night at the ballpark: Paxton returns, leads the team to victory, 2-0

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Making a joyful noise

Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners
Remembering that things are supposed to be fun
Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

The recap is late tonight, and that is because three hours ago I was standing in the left field bleachers, handing out EH cards in the Maple Grove. We get a lot of flak here at the site, both overt and covert (although Twitter is, last I checked, a public forum) for not being critical enough, for being too close to the team, for “drinking the Kool-Aid,” a reference as insensitive as it is outdated. Personally, I try to remember to wear my two hats. When I am wearing my recap hat, which I think of as an old-timey fedora with a PRESS badge, I’m sitting at home, as I did yesterday, red pen in hand to chart Marco’s pitches in the peculiar shorthand I have taught myself, someone raised outside the inner sanctum of Little League, the two-column notes an adaptation of the Cornell system I was taught in college. When I’m wearing my fan hat, I’m sitting in the ballpark or with friends, tracking the game but also chatting, trash-talking, drinking a beer, maybe playing a board game if things aren’t going great. It’s a division I try to keep separate, the objective and the subjective, but the reality is life comes at you fast, and sometimes it’s hard to line up a recapper on a steamy July night.

This recap will be light on details; I didn’t have my scorebook with me because I’ve learned on Maple Grove nights it’s hard to keep score. The energy on a good Grove night is infectious, all-encompassing. There are no innings off. There are no pitches off, even. There are chants and cheers and foot stomps and claps. There is sign waving and counting up of strikeouts and high fives, a great many high fives. It’s the kind of joyful noise you hear outside a school at recess, or in certain churches.

Tonight, a Monday, 35,000 people crowded into Safeco to watch James Paxton pitch, theoretically, although there was a lot of orange sprinkled along the third base line. In the Maple Grove, cards were passed out like leaflets. I handed one to a skeptical-looking preteen, who said he’d take one, but he was pretty sure his friends wouldn’t. He made it clear he was the one doing me the favor.

In the first inning, it looked like the skeptical preteen might have a point. After getting Springer to line out, Paxton gave up two hits, a bad-luck single to Alex Bregman and a sharp single to Yuli Gurriel. Evan Gattis then scared people, apparently, when he hit a long foul ball that might have cleared the foul pole for a three-run blast, but looked pretty foul to me from the bleachers—I was surprised Hinch blew a replay call on it, especially considering how tight the game was. The call was upheld, Gattis eventually struck out, and Tyler White, who apparently is less positionally flexible than Yuli Gurriel, flew out to end the threat.

After the shaky first inning, Paxton locked in against the Altuve-less, Correa-less Astros lineup, retiring batters 1-2-3 in the second and third, giving up one single to Gattis in the fourth but working around it, and more 1-2-3 innings in the fifth, sixth, and seventh. Paxton needed just 82 pitches through seven innings, collecting eight strikeouts and walking no one. The curveball bit sharply; the fastball was an easy 97-98. The Maple Grove was in full throat, making noise that echoed throughout the ballpark every time Paxton got to two strikes. Often, when we hand out cards to people, they wave them half-heartedly before stuffing them under their seats to become beer-soaked and covered in peanut dust, trampled and pitted against the pebbly concrete, cards. Tonight there were very few cards to collect; instead they went home as souvenirs, held tightly in the hands of fans, including the same skeptical preteen and his friends, who eventually made the trek up to Grove HQ to sheepishly ask for cards of their own.

Meanwhile, Gerritt Cole had a fine night of his own, matching Paxton in strikeouts, strike percentage, and exceeding him in velocity, but allowing two walks and two runs. Cole carried a perfect game into the fifth before hitting Nelson Cruz, and carried his no-hitter into the sixth when the Mariners finally broke through. With two outs, Jean Segura hit an infield single to notedly not-a-second-baseman Yuli Gurriel, followed by Professional Hitter Denard Span with what feels like his millionth high-leverage hit, a crisp line drive into center. Nelson Cruz then snuck a ground ball past not-Alex-Bregman J.D. White at third, scoring Segura easily, and Span, surprisingly. I was talking with a friend a while ago about the difference between “athlete who plays baseball” and “baseball player,” and Span, despite the gray in his beard, is certainly the former.

That would be all the Mariners needed. Alex Colome came in to work a clean eighth, although he got into in a little trouble, giving up a single to Max Stassi and walking George Springer, but rebounded to strike out Bregman, and John will tell you more about that in his About Last Night tomorrow. Edwin Diaz drew a lesser level of difficulty in facing Gurriel, Gattis, and White in the ninth, and made quick work of the trio to collect his MLB-leading 40th save.

Tonight I had to wear both my hats at once, the fan-hat and the hat of knowing I was going to have to come home and write about this game (a much heavier, less comfortable hat). But in a way, it’s even better, because I get to live the game twice over: to watch Paxton throw and appreciate the quality of his pitches as an adjudicator; and to listen to the ballpark buzz and know I was part of the joyful noise cheering for him. If you haven’t yet and you are able, come join the Maple Grove some night and add your voice to the chorus. Our ballpark’s house has many rooms, and this is a particularly delightful one.