By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Hey, now, you paying attention to the Mariners yet?
Rookie left-hander James Paxton turned in the sort of Koufaxian effort Wednesday night that maybe — just maybe — should be taken as a warning that these Mariners might be different.
Paxton worked seven brilliant innings in a 8-2 victory that completed a three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels in the season’s opening series: No runs, just two hits, two walks and nine strikeouts.
“For me,” he said, “it’s a feeling that I’m at that release point (in his delivery) where I know I can throw everything as hard as I want to throw it and know it’s going to go where I want it to go.”
The Mariners backed Paxton with an 13-hit attack that included a three-run homer by Mike Zunino in a four-run sixth inning. Brad Miller keyed two earlier rallies with a double and an RBI single.
Stefen Romero collected his first two big-league hits, including an RBI double that preceded Zunino’s bomb. Robinson Cano also had two hits, including an RBI single that opened the scoring in the third inning.
Justin Smoak had two more hits, including the front end of a two-homer binge in the ninth against Ernesto Frieri. The back end was Corey Hart’s first homer since Sept. 29, 2012.
“For as long as it’s been,” Hart said, “it was fun. There’s still a ways to go, but the swing is getting better.”
So let’s add it up:
The Mariners are 3-0 for just the third time in their history and the first time since 1995. They outscored the Angels 26-8 in the three games and completed their first sweep at Angel Stadium since June 9-11, 2006.
They outlasted Angels starter Hector Santiago, 0-1, and torched the LA bullpen. So there was much to like, but everything except Paxton, 1-0, pretty much blurred into the background.
“It’s probably the best he’s been,” Zunino said. “I know (last) September was great for him, too, but … honestly, it’s probably better because he has a better feel for that cutter.”
Paxton’s biggest challenge came in the first inning after Kole Calhoun led off with a double. Mike Trout walked, but Paxton turned the inning around by getting Albert Pujols to ground into a double play.
“I got into a little bit of trouble early,” Paxton said, “but I found that groove. I was starting to find it at the end of that inning. I made some pitches when I had to, and I got out of there.”
He yielded just one hit over the next six innings.
The Mariners opened the scoring in the third after Miller hustled his way to a two-out double. Cano followed with an RBI single on a sharp grounder up the middle.
Miller’s two-out RBI single extended the lead to 2-0 in the fifth before Santiago departed after yielding singles to Smoak and Hart to start the sixth.
In came Fernando Salas, who served up a first-pitch RBI double to Romero before retiring Dustin Ackley on a check-swing hopper to the mound. Zunino then rocked a first-pitch slider into the Angels’ bullpen.
“He’s sort of 50-50 on fastballs and sliders with runners in scoring position,” Zunino said. “He just left a slider up. I was really trying to just hit a ball to ball to the outfield so Corey could tag. I was able to run into one.”
That quickly, it was 6-0. More than enough for Paxton.