One strike, one out away from history. Of all the players to have to make the clinching defensive play, few would be more capable than the one with a glove trimmed in gold.
Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager had mentioned two days earlier how impressed he was with Mike Trout’s ability to remain calm in the most dire moments.
Then the Toronto Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson hit a ground ball to Seager’s left, with pitcher James Paxton needing one more out for history Tuesday. Every fan in Toronto’s Rogers Centre — heck, maybe all of Canada and Seattle — were counting on Seager to make the play.
“Hell yeah,” Seager told reporters afterward, seemingly still buzzing from the experience. “Yeah there’s nerves.”
But Seager picked the ball off of a bounce, his glove the only thing standing between a single or no-hitter. He threw to first to easily beat Donaldson and secure Paxton’s first no-hitter and the sixth in Mariners history.
“It’s such a crazy feeling, it’s hard to describe,” Seager said. “You legitimately want the ball hit to you, but you want it to be a pop up in foul territory. I was truly hoping for either a strikeout or a pop-up in foul territory.”
Besides catcher Mike Zunino, Seager was next to race toward the mound to try to figure out how to celebrate the magic of Paxton’s achievement in a 5-0 Seattle Mariners in on Tuesday.
And few were happier for Paxton than Seager.
“That was incredible,” Seager said. “(It) couldn’t have happened to a better guy. You talk about a guy, how he gets in here, puts his head down. (He) is an unbelievable, tireless worker. I couldn’t be happier for him.
“I mean, you try to make a play all the time, but if a ball would have got by me it would be hard to sleep tonight. (It) might be hard anyway.”
There were certainly a few worthy defensive plays by the Mariners on Tuesday, including Ryon Healy’s picks at first base; Dee Gordon’s charging, diving grab in center field; Ben Gamel’s jumping, two-handed catch near the warning track; and Seager’s final snare.
But even for Seager, the owner of a Gold Glove, the second out of the seventh inning was something out of the incredible.
Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar smoked Paxton’s 98-mph fastball bouncing down the third-base line. Seager dived to his right to corral it. That wasn’t near the end of the play because Pillar is fast.
Seager quickly pounced from his chest, and without looking chucked the ball off his back foot toward first base, utilizing the hard AstroTurf surface. It hopped about 15 feet in front of Healy, who picked it just in time to get Pillar.
Paxton was six outs away from the no-hitter after that. As Seager trotted back toward the dugout, Paxton waited on the mound for a fist-bump with their gloves, with Seager smiling on his way.
“He ran by me after that and said, ‘You’re welcome,’” Paxton said on 710-ESPN radio Wednesday. “That’s just true Kyle Seager humor.
“What a defense tonight. That was amazing. Those guys were making great plays. It was just — it was our night.”
And then Paxton threw a 99-mph fastball (just after a 100-mph one) and had to stand and watch Seager make the final play against Donaldson (a former American League most valuable player) to seal it.
“I threw that pitch as hard as I could and I saw the ball rocket toward third,” Paxton said. “I kind of spun around and saw Seager — it looked like he caught it with his stomach — and all of a sudden I see him throwing it to first base and I was just shocked.
“I was like, ‘Holy smokes.’ I can’t believe this happened. I looked straight at Zunino and saw him running out and I threw my arms up in the air and enjoyed the moment with my teammates. It was very special. It wouldn’t have happened without that group of guys out there tonight. Everyone had a hand in that, and it was an amazing feat.”
Seager and Paxton have been teammates since Paxton was a rookie in 2013. Seager’s watched The Big Maple get sent down to the minor leagues to re-work his pitching mechanics, he’s witnessed Paxton’s myriad injuries, to seeing this — Paxton entering history a week after becoming the first Canadian pitcher to ever strike out 16 batters in a game.
“I mean, you think about his last two outings, just absolutely unbelievable,” Seager said. “He goes from striking out 16 in seven innings to his next time he throws a no-hitter. He took it to another level. He was absolutely incredible.”