A seventh-inning defensive miscue was all it took to see one of the best-pitched games from a Mariners starter this season turned into dust. All it took for the Mariners to squander another game it needed. All it took for the Angels to break open a scoreless game for a 5-0 win Wednesday night in Anaheim.
With a runner on first and one out, RF Chris Denorfia misplayed a bloop off David Freese’s bat. Denorfia pulled up, realizing he couldn’t catch it, only to watch the ball skip past him all the way to the fence. Home came Howie Kendrick with the deciding run. It was the fourth hit James Paxton allowed, after three singles, in what was a sterling performance.
After a brief conference on the mound with manager Lloyd McClendon, Paxton intentionally walked Erick Aybar before striking out Chris Iannetta after a long at-bat. Since Paxton was at 104 pitches, McClendon turned to Danny Farquhar to secure the final out.
Instead, Farquhar surrendered a three-run homer to C.J. Cron to break open the game. A walk and double later, the Angels had a 5-0 lead and went on to clinch the AL West title. Farquhar was on his way to the shower.
The loss proved costly for Seattle (81-70), dropping two games behind the Royals (83-68), who beat the White Sox and Chris Sale 6-2 earlier in the evening, as well as Oakland (83-68), which lost at home to Texas 6-1. Detroit (84-68) lost to Minnesota, but remains in the AL Central lead.
Paxton entered the game as good as any pitcher in the history of baseball through the first 14 starts of a career. Since debuting last September, Paxton pitched to a 1.73 ERA over 83 innings, ranking behind Steve Rogers and Tiny Bonham among all pitchers with as many starts since 1914.
McClendon raves about Paxton, often calling “the glue” to the rotation. He was more than a simple adhesive Wednesday. In front of a national television audience on ESPN, the rookie introduced himself with nine groundouts, eight strikeouts (three against likely AL Most Valuable Player Mike Trout) and six shutout innings against the best team in baseball.
Denorfia’s misplay and McClendon’s decision to lift Paxton resulted in a line the left-hander didn’t deserve. He allowed three runs on four hits and an intentional walk in 6.2 innings.
A game after scoring 13 runs, the Mariners came up with just one hit.
Veteran left-hander C.J. Wilson rolled through an amenable M’s lineup. Through six innings, the 33-year-old allowed two baserunners: A fourth-inning walk to Robinson Cano, and a fifth-inning single to Justin Smoak. That was it for a pitcher that entered the game with a 4.61 ERA, and an 0-2 record with a 6.18 ERA in two starts against Seattle this season.
The Mariners’ lone threat came in the seventh inning. Kendrys Morales and Denorfia gave the M’s baserunners with two outs after a pair of walks. Smoak, a career .257 hitter with three home runs versus Wilson, popped out to right field.
With 11 games remaining, squandering a brilliant outing was something Seattle could ill afford. The idea of having a young star to pair with Felix Hernandez atop the rotation for possibly the rest of the decade, may ease the pain.
Seattle fell to 8-2 in games following a 10-plus run outburst . . . Paxton tied a club record with his fifth consecutive start without allowing an extra-base hit.