The Associated PressTORONTO (AP) — James Paxton looked up at the 20,000 Canadian fans cheering for him and pointed to the giant maple leaf tattoo on his right forearm.
The Big Maple picked the perfect place for the game of his life.
Paxton became the first Canadian to pitch a no-hitter in his home country, pitching the Seattle Mariners over the Toronto Blue Jays 5-0 Tuesday night.
“You couldn’t write this stuff,” Paxton said. “Pretty amazing to have it happen against the Blue Jays, at home in Canada.”
Not bad, eh?
The 29-year-old lefty from British Columbia got a standing ovation at Rogers Centre. The crowd rooted for him in the late innings, realizing he was one of their own — his tattoo of Canada’s national symbol includes an image of a family home near Vancouver.
“The fans were great,” he said. “They were giving me some trouble in the seventh inning, but once I got past that, they started kind of cheering me on. It was cool.”
Paxton joined Dick Fowler of the 1945 Philadelphia Athletics as the only Canadians to throw a no-hitter.
Paxton threw the third no-hitter in the majors this year — all three have come in different countries.
Oakland’s Sean Manaea pitched one against Boston on April 21 in California. Four Los Angeles Dodgers combined to no-hit San Diego in Mexico last Friday.
Coming off a career-high 16 strikeouts in his last start, Paxton (2-1) was electric once again, hitting 160 kph with his fastball while retiring Josh Donaldson on a grounder to end it.
Paxton struck out seven, walked three, threw 99 pitches and benefited from an outstanding play by third baseman Kyle Seager. With two outs in the seventh, the former Gold Glover made a full-length diving stop on speedy Kevin Pillar’s grounder down the line, then slung an off-balance throw that first baseman Ryon Healy snagged on one hop.
“If that ball gets by you, it’s going to be hard to get any sleep tonight,” Seager said. “It may be hard anyway.”
Russell Martin led off the Toronto eighth with a long drive that left fielder Ben Gamel caught near the wall.
“What a defense tonight. That was amazing. Those guys were making every play,” Paxton said.
Anthony Alford fouled out on the first pitch to begin the ninth and Teoscar Hernandez struck out swinging. Donaldson ended it with a hard one-hopper to Seager.
Healy pumped his fist after catching Seager’s throw, and the Mariners streamed out of the dugout, dousing their pitcher with a cooler as the crowd of 20,513 cheered.
After his teammates had left the field, Paxton came back out and waved to the fans.
“Just showing my respect to the Canadian fans,” Paxton said. “I really appreciate their cheers after the game, supporting me being Canadian. That was very special. I just wanted to show them that I heard them and that I was very grateful for their support.”
Paxton said his tattoo also includes a mural of Bowyer Island, north of Vancouver, where his family owns a summer cabin.
“It’s kind of a special thing for me, having not lived in Canada for the past 10 years or so,” he said. “It just reminds me of home.”
Paxton was a first-round draft pick by Toronto in 2009 out of the University of Kentucky, but didn’t sign. He instead played in an independent league, was drafted by the Mariners in the fourth round the next year and joined them.
Seattle fans certainly appreciate him, too, especially the ones sitting in Maple Grove. Rather than K cards to mark his strikeouts, they hold up “Eh” signs in a playful nod to his heritage.
Paxton’s season has taken off since a bald eagle mistakenly landed on his shoulder before a start last month. He’s 2-0 with a 2.51 ERA over seven starts since the bird stuck its talons into his back before the Minnesota Twins’ home opener.
It was the sixth no-hitter for the Mariners franchise, and the first since Hisashi Iwakuma did it against Baltimore in 2015. Randy Johnson tossed Seattle’s first no-hitter in 1990.
It was the first no-hitter against the Blue Jays since Detroit’s Justin Verlander did it in Toronto on May 7, 2011. Toronto has been no-hit five times.