The Seattle Mariners’ season has been in magnum dwindle for so long that it’s easy to lose track, especially in the formidable shadow of the sprained-ankle portion of the Seahawks season. But every once in a while the baseball gods like to cross the streams with some unscripted intrigue that looks as if it were intentional: James Paxton in his first return to Seattle since being traded to the Yankees, facing off against the youngster, Justus Sheffield, who was the Mariners’ prize in the four-player November deal.
You know the storyline: The Big Maple vs. The Little Twig.
Humvee vs. Mini-Cooper.
Google vs. abacus.
Apple vs. apple.
For those eager for a dramatic, unforeseen outcome, we’ll refer you to the Disney Channel.
The Yankees rocked. Paxton rolled. The Mariners Wednesday lost, 7-3, and were swept in a three-game series at T-ball Park against the colossus, which somehow looks 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide.
Sheffield? Well, whoever booked the Yankees for his second major league start needs to be sternly admonished. He lasted 4.1 innings, gave up five earned runs, including homers to Gary Sanchez and Mike Ford, struck out five and walked none.
But he didn’t seem shattered. Didn’t spit up, swoon or wheeze.
“I knew it would be blown up because of the situation, who was pitching over there,” he said. “I just wanted to take it as a normal game against another team in the league.
“I’m here now. It’s either get nervous about who’s in the box, or go after them. I wanted to go after them. Fell at little short.”
Going after the Yankees is a like slapping a herd of wildebeests. Escape routes are few.
Three homers Wednesday gave New York 69 in August, a continuing MLB record for a calendar month, easily blasting past the previous record of 59 by the 1997 Mariners in the Kingdome. The Yanks lead the majors with 5.85 runs per game and at 88-47, are tied with the Dodgers, whom they beat two out of three in Los Angeles over the weekend, for MLB’s best record.
A two-run homer by Sanchez in the first inning fell a few feet short of hitting the left field tracks that carry the retractable roof. The Yanks’ Bunyan-esque display was nothing that Paxton, 30, was familiar with during his Seattle tenure from 2013-18.
“These guys make it easier on me when they are scoring this many runs,” he said. “It’s awesome.”
Even though Paxton gave up only one hit — a two-run homer to Kyle Seager in the fourth — he wasn’t in top form, issuing five walks in a span of eight batters.
“It showed what I could accomplish with lesser stuff,’’ Paxton said, but probably could be forgiven for the oddness of the circumstance. “It was definitely weird, for sure, a new experience, facing a team I was with for such a long time.
“I tried not to think about it and was just going out there and do what I do.’’
Mariners manager Scott Servais was obliged to put on his resolute face, not wishing to discourage Sheffield, who at 23 probably isn’t ready for the big time.
“All positives,” he said of Sheffield, who in 13 games at Triple-A Tacoma wasn’t exactly killing it, with a 2-6 record and 6.87 ERA, including 48 strikeouts and 41 walks. “No walks. He trusted his stuff. These were the Yankees, where he was part of the organization. He had to get over that hurdle.
“It was a step in the right direction. In Paxton’s evolution, from where he was in his development, is where we start with Sheffield. As long as he keeps attacking, he’s going to have some very good games.”
Speaking of development, we should take an early glance at how the trade looks. Besides Sheffield, the Mariners also acquired salary relief, pitcher Erik Swanson, 25, and outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams, 24.
In his MLB debut season, Swanson is in the Mariners bullpen, on his third call-up, with a 1-5 record and a 6.56 ERA that includes eight starts. He has not allowed a run in his past five appearances over six innings.
Thompson-Williams has been at Double-A Arkansas, with 12 homers, 40 RBI, hitting .241, with a .682 OPS.
Nothing much to show so far, which was to be expected when a top-shelf pitcher is traded for prospects. Mariners fans can only hope that no damage is done by advancing prospects early, known as the A/Z Syndrome (Ackley/Zunino).
For British Columbia native Paxton (11-6, 4.39 ERA in 24 starts), it’s all poutine and maple syrup, as far as Canadian life analogies to a baseball career. He’s one away from tying his career high in victories, and has a splendid chance to pitch in the postseason.
“I saw him (Monday) during batting practice,” Seager said. “Got to visit with him a little. He likes it there. It’s awesome to see such a good guy have success. Definitely somebody who’s real easy to root for.
“I’m happy for the success he’s having. Not so happy about it today.”
Happiness, of course, was never the Mariners goal this season. It was … something down the road. Where and when is not clear.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com.