This wasn’t really the game the Mariners were supposed to win on this road trip. They’d faced a previously unbeaten rookie starter who began mowing them down early and often but finally got some runs courtesy of some small ball in the fifth.
And from there, James Paxton and the bullpen carried the load for a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cards notched only three hits all night. They had just two singles off Paxton — one an infield hit by mound counterpart Michael Wacha — but still had a pair of scoring chances to get right back in the game.
The biggest was in the fifth when, up 2-0, Paxton issued a two-out walk that put two on for Cardinals offensive catalyst Matt Carpenter. This is where games usually go off the rails for the Mariners, but Paxton stayed composed. After having worked down in the zone with his fastball most of the night, he put one much higher in the zone and Carpenter couldn’t catch up to it.
That strikeout pretty much ended it. The Cards never got real close again.
“I think it helps when I do that, go up in the zone and get guys to swing,’’ he said. “I’ve got that angle kind of going down in the zone and then, they’re not expecting me to come up in the zone. So, I try to spend most of the night at the knees so when I do come up, I think I kind of catch them off guard a bit.’’
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said his pitcher seemed awfully composed for a guy making just his second big league start.
“He’s able to do that because he’s down with his fastball,” Wedge said of Paxton fooling hitters with higher offerings. “Because he is pitching down and down and down, when he does come up, as hard as he throws, they’ve got to commit to it.”
So, that stuff was nice to see. Often, with young pitchers, it’s all about their fastball overwhelming hitters. But Paxton employed the thinking part of the game to his advantage this time.
Paxton also wound up scoring what turned out to be the game’s decisive run after drawing a walk to follow a fifth-inning single by Dustin Ackley. Paxton admitted he hadn’t batted in a game since age 13 while playing for the “Bantam AA” Ladner, B.C. summer team up in Canada.
“It was a little nerve-wracking,’’ he said. “I didn’t really know what to do with the bat after I got walked. I just dropped it and then told the umpire when I was at second base that I hadn’t run the bases in about 11 years, so he gave me a little chuckle.’’
Both runners scored on a Franklin Gutierrez double. Later on, after the only St. Louis run on a wild-pitch in the eighth, the Mariners added a run in the ninth on a walk, an infield single and a sacrifice fly by Carlos Triunfel. So, like I said, the small ball helped.
There was again a hefty crowd here — 41,374 — as the Cards are in a pennant race and Busch Stadium tends to have a nightly playoff atmosphere to it. Not that Paxton noticed much.
“I was really just kind of locked in on the catcher,’’ Paxton said. “I didn’t really hear the crowd much. I kind of noticed how many people were there after they took me out of the game.
“I said to somebody ‘Wow, there’re a lot of people here, huh?’ I just kind of stayed locked in and focused on what was going on.’’
Hey, whatever it takes to win. Paxton becomes the first Mariners pitcher since Erik Hanson in 1988 to allow just one earned run his first two career starts (of at least six innings).