TORONTO – All that stood between James Paxton and baseball history was Josh Donaldson, so as Donaldson stepped into the batter’s box with two outs in the ninth inning Tuesday, Paxton was pleased to see catcher Mike Zunino call for fastball after fastball.
“The guy’s pretty good,” Paxton recalled, “I was like ‘I’d better bring my best stuff right here.’ I’m going to rear back and throw it as hard as I can. Fastball’s obviously my best pitch. They know it, I know it and I was like ‘I’m going to let it rip at the top of the zone and see what happens.’”
Donaldson swung through the first fastball at 98 m.p.h. The second one crossed the plate at 100 m.p.h. for a called strike. On the third pitch Donaldson connected with the 99 m.p.h. offering and hit a ground ball toward third baseman Kyle Seager.
“I’d better catch it,” Seager thought. “Or I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight and all of Seattle’s going to hate me. I didn’t want Paxton to hate me.”
“I kind of spun around,” Paxton said, “And I saw Seager. It looked like he caught it with his stomach. All of a sudden I see him throwing the ball to first base and I was just kind of shocked. I was like ‘holy smokes, I can’t believe this just happened.’”
Paxton, a Ladner, B.C., native and one-time Blue Jays draft pick, had just secured a spot in baseball history by throwing a no-hitter in Toronto. He joins Dick Fowler as the only Canadians ever to throw no-hitters.
“Any time someone is messing with history, you’re not going to like it if it’s against you, but it’s one of those rare feats, it’s hard to do,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “He’s just coming into his own, he’s that good, if he stays healthy, who knows? It’s always tough being on the losing end, but when you’re in baseball your whole life, you appreciate a little history, too. “
The 29-year-old was dealing all night, averaging 95.3 m.p.h. with his fastball and mixing in his most effective curveball of the season. He struck out seven Blue Jays while walking three.
Two late-inning defensive plays helped preserve Paxton’s no-hit bid. With two outs in the seventh, Seager dove to his right, gloved a Kevin Pillar ground ball and threw off-balance to first base, where Ryon Healy fielded the ball on a hop and pumped his fist.
“He’s one of the best in the game over there,” Zunino said of Seager. “He makes plays look a lot easier than they are … Sometimes they get overlooked, but in a moment like this they really get amplified.”
Russell Martin hit a ball to the warning track in left field to lead off the eighth inning, but left-fielder Ben Gamel made a stellar defensive play to keep the no-hit bid alive.
“It almost felt like it was meant to be,” Paxton said. “My defence made amazing plays.”
In particular, Paxton highlighted the work of Zunino, his teammate since 2013. “I don’t think I would have been able to do it without that guy out there,” he said.
Paxton has some history with the Blue Jays, who selected him in the first round of the 2009 draft, but did not sign him. The following year the Mariners made him their fourth-round pick and he has since emerged as a frontline arm when healthy.
For the Blue Jays, the no-hitter capped a difficult day on a few levels. Before the game, a much more serious issue emerged. Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna was arrested Tuesday and charged with assaulting a woman, then placed on administrative leave while Toronto police and MLB investigate.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays’ starting pitcher struggled Tuesday. Marcus Stroman allowed five runs on nine hits over five innings of work. He walked two and struck two out, but allowed more than his share of hard contact as the Mariners hit balls at 100 m.p.h. or more on eight occasions.
Paxton has been dealing of late, as evidenced by the 16 strikeouts he amassed against the Athletics in his previous start. He entered play Tuesday averaging 14 strikeouts per nine innings.
“He’s always had unbelievable stuff, but he’s starting to pitch a little different, starting to really attack, starting to trust,” Seager said. “I don’t know how he could get any better, but if anybody could, it’s definitely him.”
Paxton, who allowed eight earned runs in his Rogers Centre debut four years ago, enjoyed pitching in Toronto much more this time, even if some Blue Jays fans tried to get in his head.
“I could hear a few of them on me saying ‘you’re going to give it up,’” Paxton said.
By the time the game ended, many of those same fans were cheering Paxton on. As he left the field, he saluted the 20,513 fans at Rogers Centre.
“I really appreciate their cheers after the game, supporting me being Canadian,” Paxton said. “That was very special and I wanted to show them that I heard them and that I was very grateful.”
Some of Paxton’s friends and family watched from British Columbia while others were on hand in Toronto to watch him make history.
“To have it happen in Canada, what are the odds of that happening? It’s pretty amazing to think of that happening in Canada and it’s just very special,” he said. “You couldn’t write this stuff.”