SEATTLE — That the Mariners exceeded last year’s victory total Tuesday just hours after general manager Jack Zduriencik received a multi-year contract extension capped off a feel-good day a Safeco Field.
Robinson Cano’s first-inning homer started the Mariners toward a 5-0 victory over the Texas Rangers. It also staked rookie lefty James Paxton to an early lead.
And Paxton (4-1) bounced back from his first career loss by pitching 6 2/3 shutout innings. He also threw a career-high 118 pitches before exiting after a two-out walk in the seventh.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “We’re playing some important games right now, and we’re all feeling really good, really confident, like we’re going to win every night.”
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Paxton also lowered his ERA to 1.83 for the season and to 1.71 for his 11 career starts. He gave up four hits, all singles, while walking three and striking out four.
“I think he needed to be extended to get the rust off a little bit,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “You could see he was stronger as he went on. He’s a big horse. We need to get him going a little bit.”
This was Paxton’s fifth start since returning from nearly four months on the disabled list because of a strained back muscle.
“Getting closer,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting closer with each start. I feel like my stuff is to come around a little better each time.”
Danny Farquhar worked the final 2 1/3 innings in completing the shutout.
It was all tight, brisk and efficient. The Mariners (72-59) still haven’t lost back-to-back games in more than a month — specifically, a four-game skid from July 22-25.
“We have confidence,” said right fielder Endy Chavez, who keyed a three-run fourth with a two-run double. “We’re playing (well). We’re focused, and we’re playing good baseball. We just need to continue to do that.”
The victory enabled the Mariners to top last year’s victory total (71) with 31 games remaining and kept them one-half game ahead of Detroit (71-59) in the race the American League’s final wild-card spot.
Texas starter Nick Martinez (3-10) gave up singles runs in the first two innings and three runs in the fourth before departing after the fifth.
The Mariners, after getting blanked in Monday’s loss, struck quickly when Cano lofted a two-out homer deep into the right-field for a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
It was No. 12 of the year for Cano, and he hopes it snaps him out of a mini-slump; just one hit over his three previous games.
“I was looking for something,” he admitted. “I’ve been chasing pitches. I’ve been out front a lot. I don’t feel I’m staying back. Those things happen.”
The Mariners added run in the second inning, and only a spectacular play by Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre prevented a bigger inning.
Kyle Seager led off with a single before Martinez loaded the bases by issuing one-out walks to Chris Taylor and Endy Chavez.
Jesus Sucre hooked a grounder over third that gets by most third basemen and scores two runs. Beltre not only gloved it with a backhand stab but whipped an an-target throw across his body for an out at first.
Seager scored, but Martinez wiggled free from further damage by retiring Austin Jackson on a pop.
Paxton’s only real problem came after a leadoff walk to Robinson Chirinos in the third inning.
Daniel Robertson’s one-out infield single put runners at first and second, but Paxton should have been out of the inning when he gloved Elvis Andrus’ comebacker.
Except Paxton made a poor throw to second, which Cano dug out and threw to first for what, initially, seemed a remarkable double play. The Rangers challenged the call at first, and replays showed Andrus was safe.
Paxton still escaped when Alex Rios grounded to short.
The Mariners extended their lead to 5-0 after Logan Morrison started the fourth with a walk. Taylor followed with a single up the middle before Chavez drove a two-run double over Robertson’s head in center.
Morrison held initially as Robertson retreated on the ball, but Taylor broke immediately. As a result, the two scored within a stride of each other when Chavez charged toward third to draw a throw.
“I was stopping already at second,” he said, “and waiting for Taylor to stop at third base. But when I saw he continued, I wasn’t going to stay here. I’ve got to do something.”
Chavez was out at third, but both runners scored.
The Mariners closed the scoring with a two-out run in the fifth. Jackson tripled, and Dustin Ackley followed with a single back through the box.