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Peak Paxton

I think I can lay my concerns about James Paxton to rest now. In is first start of 2018, Pax looked bad, allowing six runs to the Indians without getting out of the fifth inning. He had three pretty good starts following that, but not great, and then another bad one in Texas. Was there something wrong? Had the Big Maple been cut down to size?

His next game was last Wednesday night. It was also my first game at Safeco Field this year, so I got to witness in person Paxton's return to form and then some. Paxton laid waste to the Athletics for seven innings, striking out an astonishing 16 Oakland batters. Those seven innings were the most dominant pitching performance I'd ever seen, and I was at the Kingdome when Randy Johnson struck out 19 A's (and lost to the hit-the-back-wall-of-the-stadium-on-the-fly homer by Mark McGwire). Paxton was unstoppable last Wendesday, but in that seventh inning he did show signs of fatigue and for better or worse—and reliever Juan Nicasio coughing up the lead immediately was worse—manager Scott Servais took him out of the game. Nevertheless, it was undoubtedly the best game of Paxton's career, a high point probably never to be matched.

Until his next start, this evening in Toronto.

Tonight the Big Maple had a new best game of his career—pitching as the visitor in his native land, Pax not only threw his first complete game, but his first shutout and his first no-hitter. He walked three, struck out seven, and made the Blue Jays look like the Bad News Bears. By my count, there were three near-hits by the Jays—a sinking liner to center field in the first inning that was caught by a sliding Dee Gordon, a deep fly to the wall in the eighth caught by a running Ben Gamel, and this hot shot in the seventh fielded (somehow) by Kyle Seager:

Paxton completed the no-hitter with his 99th pitch of the game and hit 100mph on the radar gun with his 98th. It was the second no-hitter by a Canadian pitcher, the first having been thrown by Dick Fowler of the A's. The Philadelphia A's.

Big Maple joins Johnson, Chris Bosio, Felix Hernández, and Hisashi Iwakuma on the list of Mariners who have pitched solo no-hitters (the M's no-hit the Dodgers in a six-pitcher effort in 2012). It was the third no-hitter in the Majors already this year, after Sean Manaea of Oakland no-hit the Red Sox in April and four Dodgers combined to blank the Padres earlier this month. Three no-nos in the first six weeks of the season is remarkable; last year there was just one no-hitter pitched in the big leagues and there was just one in all of 2016 as well. 2015 saw a lot of them, though, with seven occurring that season to match the impressive number of them thrown in 2012 and 1991.

Wednesday night you wondered what James Paxton could do for an encore (other than get the win). Tonight we know—utterly dominate with a no-hitter. What will he do next time out? Perfect game? No pressure, Pax.



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