Paxton Outlasts Keuchel In Outstanding Pitchers’ Duel, Mariners Win 2-1

SEATTLE, WA - APRIL 16: The Maple Grove cheers for a strikeout from James Paxton
SEATTLE, WA - APRIL 16: The Maple Grove cheers for a strikeout from James Paxton /

Tonight the Mariners kicked off a mid-week, four game series against the defending World Series Champion Houston Astros with a 2-1 victory behind the brilliant start of James Paxton.

Coming off of a start where he tallied a career-high 10 strikeouts, James Paxton and the Mariners were matched up against a potent Astros offense looking to get back on track after losing four of their last five games. And at first, it looked like it could be a long night.

Leading off the game, George Springer lined an absolute no-doubter off of the out-of-town scoreboard high above the Mariners bullpen for a quick 1-0 Astros lead. It was the third time this season Springer had led a game off with a home run. He led the league in leadoff home runs last year with nine. I can only assume at some point people will start pitching around him in the first inning. Hopefully, that starts tomorrow.

Regardless, Paxton didn’t let that solo shot phase him. Settling down, “Big Maple” proceeded to strike out Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve on his next eight pitches. Then Carlos Correa managed a harmless single up the middle before Yuli Gurriel grounded into a 6-4 fielder’s choice, ending the inning. From that point forward Paxton never looked back.

The first time through the order Paxton had tallied four strikeouts and had given up just those two first-inning hits to Springer and Correa. By the time he was through the lineup for the second time, that strikeout number had jumped to seven and only three other men had reached base (Springer and Gurriel on walks and Bregman on a fielder’s choice).

Paxton’s command was on point. Fastballs were painting the corners at 95-97 MPH. Called balls were barely missing off the black. The slider was biting hard at the ankles of the Astros hitters. In short, big No. 65 was dealing through the first four innings.

Despite the great start to Paxton’s night, through three and a half innings the Mariners were still trailing in the game. Reason being there was another pitcher throwing tonight who was having a dominant game of his own.

Dallas Keuchel was on the bump for the Astros. Through his first 3.2 IP, he had thrown less than 40 pitches and faced just one over the minimum – thanks to a Taylor Motter single in the third inning. Three strikeouts sprinkled between ground ball out after ground ball out had the Mariners wondering if the bats were ever going to wake up. Then with one out in the bottom of the fourth inning, one bat did. Mariners DH Nelson Cruz lined a 2-2 off-speed pitch into the Astros bullpen to tie the game 1-1.

At this point, we were witnessing two elite pitchers at the top of their game. Paxton was overpowering the Houston hitters and Keuchel was getting the Mariners hitters to roll over just about everything (12 of the first 16 outs came via the ground ball). Then in the top half of the 6th inning, Paxton finished his night stranding a runner in scoring position, setting up the go-ahead at-bat for the Mariners.

David Freitas led off the bottom half of the 6th inning by legging out a double on a soft line drive down the left field line. Dee Gordon switched places with Freitas, legging out double of his own, giving the Mariners a 2-1 lead. Gordon has now hit safely in 13 of the Mariners first 14 games.

No more damage was done after that. Keuchel got Jean Segura to ground out, Robinson Cano to strike out, and Kyle Seager to strike out. But, the Mariners wouldn’t need anything more.

The bullpen came in and matched Keuchel inning for inning, not allowing a single run over three innings of work. Nick Vincent replaced Paxton in the 7th and worked a perfect inning, retiring the bottom of the order in order. Setup man Juan Nicasio came in to face the top of the Astros order in the 8th inning and sat them down 1-2-3 as well. In the 9th, Edwin “Sugar” Diaz came in and issued a leadoff walk to Correa. However, he got Gurriel to line out to center and punched out pinch-hitter Josh Reddick and left fielder Marwin Gonzalez to earn his seventh save of the season.

This was a classic pitchers’ duel with neither pitcher deserving the loss. Keuchel threw a complete game and outside of Cruz’s home run and the two back-to-back doubles, he was virtually unhittable. Paxton was just as good. He went six innings, giving up just three hits, and the lone run that came on the home run to lead off the game.

Next: Kyle Seager is Good: A Mariners Fan's Yearly Reminder

When facing elite caliber pitching it is going to take performances like Paxton’s tonight to give the Mariners a chance at a W. Now that they’ve gotten a win against Keuchel and are missing Justin Verlander in this series, the M’s are in a good spot to walk away from this series with a split. Ariel Miranda will get the ball in his 2018 Mariners debut tomorrow night. He takes on Lance McCullers Jr in game 2 of the series. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 pm.