TORONTO — When James Paxton saw all-star Josh Donaldson stepping up to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning of his no-hit bid, he knew he had to stay aggressive.
That’s when Big Maple lived up to his nickname.
Paxton, a 6-foot-4 left-hander from Ladner, B.C., got two quick strikes before reeling back for a 99-mile-per-hour fastball.
“I mean, Josh Donaldson, the guy’s pretty good,” Paxton said Tuesday night after the Seattle Mariners’ 5-0 victory. “I was like: ‘I better bring my best stuff for him, I’m going to rear back and throw it as hard as I can. … I’m going to let it rip top of the zone and see what happens.'”
Donaldson hit the ball hard to third baseman Kyle Seager, who collected it and fired to first for the final out.
“I saw the ball rocket to third and I kinda spun around and saw Seager, it looked like he caught it with his stomach,” Paxton said with a laugh. “All of a sudden I see him throwing the ball to first base and I was just kinda shocked like I can’t believe that just happened.”
Paxton (2-1) struck out seven and walked three batters in a 99-pitch masterpiece, getting a rousing ovation from the 20,513 at Rogers Centre.
When it was over, Paxton acknowledged the crowd.
“I really appreciate their cheers after the game, supporting me being Canadian,” he said. “That was very special and I just wanted to show them that I heard them and I was very grateful for their support.”
Paxton is the first Canadian in 73 years to throw a no-hitter. Toronto-born Dick Fowler threw one for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1945 in his first start in three years after serving for the Canadian Army in the Second World War.
Paxton hadn’t heard of Fowler until Tuesday night but said he was honoured to add his name to Canadian history.
Mariners history too. It was the sixth no-hitter for the franchise and fifth by an individual pitcher.
“By far the coolest moment of my baseball career,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “Really cool that it happened with somebody that I’ve gone so long through this organization with.”
Paxton was coming off a Canadian record-setting 16-strikeout performance in his last start, a no-decision against Oakland.
He cruised through most of the game, with two walks in the third inning his only real blemish.
Paxton received some defensive help to keep his no-hit bid in tact in the seventh inning when Seager dove for a sharply hit ball from Kevin Pillar before snapping back up to his feet and making the throw to first for the final out of the frame.
Left-fielder Ben Gamel helped out by catching a deep fly ball at the warning track for the first out of the eighth. Centre-fielder Dee Gordon got the second out, a sharply hit line drive to centre field.
Paxton said he realized he had a no-hitter going in the sixth inning, but didn’t think much about it.
“I was just trying to get ahead of guys and stick with my game plan and probably in the eighth inning it started to become a little more real,” Paxton said. “Six outs away, the eighth inning we had those balls hit really hard right at people, it kinda made me laugh on the mound and I was like ‘man this is just insane.'”
Zunino homered for the Mariners (20-14) and Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Mitch Haniger also drove in runs.
Marcus Stroman (0-5) allowed five runs and nine hits over five innings. He also walked two and struck out a pair as Toronto dropped to 19-17 on the season.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons tipped his cap to Paxton after the game.
“It’s always tough to be on the losing end but when you’re in baseball your whole life you appreciate a little history too,” he said.
Hours before the game, Toronto closer Roberto Osuna was charged with assault and placed on administrative leave by Major League Baseball.
The league said it was investigating the circumstances of the charges in accordance with the joint domestic violence policy between the league and the MLB Players Association. Toronto Police said Osuna will appear in court June 18, but wouldn’t provide more details.
NOTES: Paxton was selected out of the University of Kentucky by the Blue Jays in the first round (37th overall) of the 2009 draft but chose not to sign with the team. … The Blue Jays placed shortstop Aledmys Diaz on the 10-day disabled list (retroactive to Monday) with a left ankle sprain. Infielder Richard Urena was recalled from triple-A. … Sebastian Toutant, the Pyeongchang Olympic gold medallist in snowboard big air, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to fellow Canadian and Blue Jays outfielder Dalton Pompey.
Five things to know about James Paxton’s no-hitter
73 YEARS IN THE MAKING — Paxton is the second Canadian to throw a no-hitter in Major League Baseball history. The first was Toronto’s Dick Fowler, who led the Philadelphia Athletics to a 1-0 victory over the St. Louis Browns at Shibe Park on Sept. 9, 1945. It was Fowler’s first game in three years after serving with the Canadian Army during the Second World War. He pitched for the Athletics until 1952, amassing a 66-79 record with a 4.11 earned-run average and 382 strikeouts.
CLOSE BUT PAS DE CIGAR — Between Fowler’s no-hitter in 1945 and Paxton’s on Tuesday other Canadian pitchers have come close to going nine innings without giving up a hit. Erik Bedard of Navan, Ont., went 6 1/3 innings for the Houston Astros without giving up a hit on July 21, 2013. He pulled himself out of the game because he was getting sore and didn’t want to damage his career.
DOMINANCE IS A HABIT — Paxton had 16 strikeouts over seven innings in his previous start, a no-decision against the Oakland Athletics that the Mariners went on to lose 3-2 on May 2. He became only the eighth pitcher in MLB history to have more than 16 strikeouts in a game and then record a no-hitter in the same season, joining elite company that includes Max Scherzer (2015), Nolan Ryan (1991 and 1974) and Sandy Koufax (1962).
HEART ON HIS SLEEVE — Immediately after getting Blue Jays all-star Josh Donaldson to groundout to third base for the final out of the game Paxton tapped his elbow as part of the celebration. The pitcher — who is nicknamed “The Big Maple” — has a Maple Leaf tattooed on his forearm, with a mural of an island that his family has a cabin on. “It’s a special thing for me, having not lived in Canada for the past 10 years, it just reminds me of home,” said Paxton after the win.
ALMOST A BLUE JAY — Paxton was drafted out of the University of Kentucky by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2009, 37th overall. However, negotiations went poorly, with the two sides unable to agree on a signing bonus. Paxton was represented by Scott Boras in the talks and, at one point, Blue Jays officials referred to Boras as Paxton’s “agent” when, as a collegiate player, he could only have an “adviser.” That cost Paxton his final year of NCAA eligibility and he ended up having to play for an independent league team before the Mariners drafted him in 2010.
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