SEATTLE — Among his variety of pitches, James Paxton discovered quickly he needed only one. His fastball was so overpowering that even though Oakland Athletics batters knew it was coming, they couldn’t catch up.
That fastball led to the finest performance of Paxton’s career with a major league-high 16 strikeouts on Wednesday night. And yet it ended up coming in a Seattle loss after the Mariners’ bullpen blew a late lead and saw the A’s rally for a 3-2 win.
It left the Mariners clubhouse filled with mixed feelings — thrilled about what Paxton did, and frustrated about blowing a game it should have won.
Paxton departed after seven innings with a 2-0 lead, then watched Jed Lowrie hit a two-run homer off Juan Nicasio in the eighth inning and Mark Canha opened the ninth with a home run against Edwin Diaz (0-1). Diaz had allowed just one earned run in 15 appearances this season.
"Paxton was just gross today. I haven’t faced him in a couple years and just trying to hit that heater was tough," Canha said. "It was kind of like a sigh of relief in the dugout when he finally got out of there, because he was rolling."
The bullpen collapse muted Paxton’s accomplishment. He posted the highest strikeout total by a Seattle pitcher since Randy Johnson fanned 19 on Aug. 8, 1997. He got 14 A’s on swinging strikeouts.
"I probably had the best fastball of my career," Paxton said. "It was jumping."
The left-handed Paxton was the fourth different pitcher in Mariners history to strike out at least 16 in a game, joining Johnson, Mike Moore and Mark Langston. Johnson struck out 19 twice, 18 once, and 16 twice in his Mariners career, while Moore and Langston reached the mark once.
But none of those other performances were as efficient as Paxton. He threw 80 strikes among his 105 pitches, gave up five hits and walked one. Consider when Johnson struck out 16 in 1997, he threw 155 pitches and he threw 160 in 1992 when he struck out 18.
While it’s a different era, it also made the efficiency of Paxton’s performance stand out more.
"There were no secrets. They knew what he was going to throw, he knew what he was going to throw and he just overpowered them, which doesn’t happen very often in this league," Seattle manager Scott Servais said.
Seattle went to Nicasio in the eighth and trouble arrived quickly. Pinch-hitter Matt Joyce lined a ground-rule double with one out and three pitches later Lowrie’s shot to nearly the same part of the yard had a little more elevation, clipping the top of the fence and bounding over. Canha’s homer was his fifth of the season and came on the second pitch of the ninth inning.
Seattle led 2-0 after Ryon Healy’s solo homer and Jean Segura’s RBI single in the third inning. But Seattle never padded the lead and missed chances with the bases loaded in both the eighth and ninth innings.
In both innings Seattle benefited by replay, but couldn’t capitalize against Blake Treinen. Segura’s double and an intentional walk to Robinson Cano loaded the bases in the eighth, but Treinen (2-1) struck out Nelson Cruz and Mitch Haniger. In the ninth, a replay review deemed Dee Gordon safe with two outs to load the bases but Segura grounded out to end it.
Paxton was the first American League pitcher to earn a no-decision after striking out at least 16 in a scoreless outing since Oakland’s Vida Blue on July 9, 1971, vs. the California Angels.
Lost in Paxton’s performance was a solid effort by Oakland’s Brett Anderson in his first start of the season. Anderson allowed two runs and five hits in 6 1/3 innings, and kept the A’s close enough to rally.
"If you keep it close like Brett did, all it takes is a walk and a hit, or a couple of hits in a row and you’re back in the game," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said.
BEST OF APRIL
A’s starter Sean Manaea was chosen the AL pitcher of the month and Diaz was picked as the AL reliever of the month for April. Manaea was 4-2 with a 1.03 ERA in the first month of the season and had the lowest opponents’ batting average (.134), on-base percentage (.178) and OPS (.400) in the majors. Diaz recorded an AL-high 11 saves in 11 attempts in the month and a 0.63 ERA.
The A’s optioned reliever Emilio Pagan to Triple-A Nashville. Pagan had a 5.93 ERA in 12 appearances and had allowed four home runs. Melvin said the goal for Pagan is to work on his fastball location and throwing his breaking ball when behind in the count.
Athletics: Manaea (4-2) makes his second start of the season against Seattle. Manaea allowed one run and two hits in seven innings in a win over the Mariners on April 15.
Mariners: Wade LeBlanc (0-0) makes his first start for Seattle. LeBlanc is taking the place of Erasmo Ramirez in the Mariners rotation. Ramirez was placed on the DL earlier this week.