I don’t want to go too crazy with what happened tonight, but I’m going to be bold here and say that what James Paxton did tonight was pretty neat. He threw a no-hitter in the Mariners’ 5-0 win over Toronto. No-hitters are neat, right? I’m never sure what’s popular with the kids these days.
I wasn’t able to catch any of it visually the first time through thanks to softball practice, but luckily ROOT sports likes to replay games right after they happen, so I got to witness Paxton’s utter domination of the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night. And boy was he ever dominant. Did I mention he threw a no-hitter?
The odds that this type of outing could happen to a better person seem incredibly low. Paxton seems like one of the genuine good guys in baseball™, what with his meet and greet with the Maple Grove last year, respecting the heck out of bald eagles, and even using his hat as a nest for baby birds. Also, as someone who predicted Paxton would win the 2017 AL Cy Young award, it warms my heart to see our big lovable maple accomplish the achievement of a lifetime.
And he did it in his native Canada! He’s now the second Canadian-born pitcher ever to throw a no-hitter, with the other being Dick Fowler, who threw his in 1945. He’s also the only Canadian hurler to toss a no-no in Canada. Oh, and it was his first career complete game. Way to make the most of it, Big Maple.
The scariest thing for major league hitters, though? His previous start was probably better than this one. You know, better than the one tonight, where he didn’t allow a hit to a team that entered the game having scored the fifth-most runs (180) in all of MLB. In his 16-strikeout game against the A’s, Paxton recorded an astounding 32 swinging strikes. Tonight, he had to settle for a really-good 15.
Today, Paxton got it done by pounding the zone and forcing Blue Jays hitters to take their hacks—64 of his 99 pitches (more on that in a moment) were strikes—and he was able to get the Blue Jays to be aggressive early in counts. That led to a 52.6% ground ball rate, the highest of the season so far for Paxton, which allowed him to keep his pitch count down and enter the ninth inning with just 92 pitches. That allowed him to finish the game under 100 pitches—so his no-hitter was also a Maddux! (A Maddux, named after Greg Maddux, is a complete-game shutout thrown in under 100 pitches.)
This may have been a mid-game adjustment after realizing home plate umpire James Hoye wasn’t going to call high strikes, one of the keys to his dominance over the A’s in his previous start. So, Paxton peppered the bottom of the zone and collected ground ball outs. He’s locked in to the point where if one thing isn’t working, he can go to plan B and not allow a hit.
Of course, there’s the old baseball probably-truism that states that you can’t have a no-hitter without a stellar defensive play or two behind you. (Don’t go look up the game film of Felix’s perfecto if you want to continue to believe in this). Paxton definitely was helped out by his defense, and it started way back in the first inning with a diving/tumbling/something-that-made-him-leave-his-feet catch from Dee Gordon on a Yangervis Solarte liner. They say the ones hit right at you are the toughest to judge, and Gordon didn’t waste any steps getting to that one. It’s nice to see him growing out there in center after some recent misadventures. Gordon would also make a similar play in the eight inning to keep the dream alive.
Ben Gamel also had a pretty solid play on a deep fly ball from Russell Martin to lead off the seventh, though it probably wasn’t quite as difficult as he made it look. That said, I’m not here to pick nits right now. I’m just glad he caught it.
The true defensive hero of the game, though, was Kyle Seager. In the seventh inning, speedster Kevin Pillar was responsible for the Blue Jays’ best effort to try to break up the no-no when he smoked a hard grounder down the third base line. Wrong guy to hit it to there, bud. Kyle Seager made an incredible diving stop, popped up with more haste than Boppo the inflatable clown, and fired a no-look, one-hop strike to Ryon Healy to not just get Pillar, but beat him by a step and a half. There are probably only three or four third basemen in the league that can make that play, and Paxton is no-doubt thankful he had one of them behind him.
The efforts of Ryon Healy also shouldn’t go unnoticed. The big first baseman made multiple picks on short hops to prevent errors, or errors that might have been ruled hits by a hometown scorer. His best play wasn’t a pick, though. Healy stretched up onto his tip toes to snag an uncharacteristically high throw from Kyle Seager on a slow roller off the bat of Kendrys Morales. It looked completely air-mailed out of his hand, but Healy corralled it, and saved the day.
Healy made another solid play adjusting to a foul popup in the third that he almost lost in the roof of the Rogers Centre, but made the adjustment to haul it in. While it wouldn’t have directly resulted in a hit, the situation changes if the batter gets an extra pitch.
Of course, Paxton couldn’t have done it without some run support, but forgive me if I gloss over this a bit. The M’s picked up two in the third on a Robinson Cano sacrifice fly and Nelson Cruz single into right field. They’d tack on two more in the fourth on a big-boy oppo-taco ding donger from noted strong man Mike Zunino, which was really heckin’ impressive but is totally an afterthought in this game. The final run came across when Mitch Haniger brought Cano in from third with a sac fly of his own.
If there was any doubt who the ace of this staff is (there shouldn’t have been), Paxton has erased that. Paxton was unbelievable tonight in tossing his first career no-hitter, and it was probably his second-best start in…his last two starts. When he pitches like this, the only guy who might be better is some jamoke named Kershaw. Paxton has pitched like a superstar since 2016, but it’s taken until now for the baseball world to notice. Better late than never, eh?
Game two of the series is much less likely to feature a no-hitter, with the Mariners sending Wade LeBlanc to the mound against Jaime Garcia at 4:07 p.m. tomorrow. Is it Paxton day yet?