TORONTO — 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 100 mph 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.
This outing was a lot better than his first game in Canada. He allowed nine runs, six walks and seven hits in 2 2-3 innings in a September 2014 loss to the Blue Jays.
“We’ve come a long way from that,” he said.
Mariners manager Scott Servais said he started to think early about what could happen.
“Probably about the fourth inning I looked up and realized his pitch count was in such good shape that if he got a few breaks along the way we might be looking at something special,” Servais said. “It certainly was special tonight.”
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.
Fowler threw his no-hitter on Sept. 9, 1945, against the St. Louis Browns. He had recently returned from serving in the Canadian military during World War II, missing two full seasons, and pitched his gem in his first start of the year.
This was the sixth no-hitter for the Mariners franchise, and the first since Hisashi Iwakuma did it against Baltimore in 2015. Felix Hernandez threw a perfect game in 2012, and 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.
Mike Zunino hit a two-run homer as the Mariners improved to 12-6 on the road.
Marcus Stroman (0-5) remained winless in seven starts. The right-hander allowed five runs and nine hits in five innings, and has a 7.71 ERA.