James Paxton became the first pitcher in franchise history Sunday to win six games in a calendar month.
Nelson Cruz hit a first-inning ICBM into the upper deck with two runners aboard started the Mariners toward a 9-1 romp over the New York Mets at Safeco Field.
But the day still belonged to Leonys Martin, the popular prodigal who marked his return to the big leagues by, first, making a spectacular defensive play that saved two runs and, then, hitting a homer on his first swing.
"That was really an exciting moment for me," he admitted. "It’s been a long time. I was playing in the minor leagues. I was trying to keep calm (today). Thank God, I put a good swing on it."
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The Mariners summoned Martin from Triple-A Tacoma prior to Sunday’s game after placing Mitch Haniger on the disabled list. Haniger is recovering from a facial laceration after being hit Saturday by a pitch.
Martin opened the season as the club’s center fielder but was designated for assignment April 23 after batting just .111 in 15 games. When he went unclaimed on waivers, he accepted an outright assignment to Tacoma.
"It’s great to have him back and contributing," manager Scott Servais said. "Everybody loves Leonys’ personality, but you have to do it in-between the lines."
As for Paxton, he labored at times in his six innings but still — still! — didn’t allow a run while striking out eight and walking none.
"It wasn’t my best," he said. "My location wasn’t very good. My breaking ball wasn’t the best, but I battled, and Zee (Mike Zunino) did great job behind the plate of mixing pitches. We got through it pretty well."
Paxton (11-3) went 6-0 with a 1.37 ERA (six runs in 39 1/3 innings) in July. Twelve other Mariners pitchers have won five games (a total of 19 times) in a calendar month. Jamie Moyer did it four times.
"What a month, wow," Servais said. "He’s really leading us charging up the mountain. I didn’t even think it was his best stuff. I thought he was just a tick off in his breaking pitches. But his fastball was really good."
Emilio Pagan worked two scoreless innings before James Pazos blew the shutout by giving up three two-out singles in the ninth before closing out the victory.
The Mariners pulled back to .500 at 53-53 and remained 3 1/2 games behind Kansas City for the final American League’s final wild-card berth.
"We’re playing good right now," Cruz said, "and we need to play good. Our pitching has been good. That’s what you need. Our pitching, with Paxton, was really good today.
The Mariners play four games at Kansas City on a nine-game road trip that begins Monday in Texas. It is part of a stretch of playing 21 of their next 28 games on the road.
"We know what’s ahead of us," Servais said. "We will embrace what is ahead of us. We’re not going to shy away from it."
The Mariners jumped Mets starter Seth Lugo (5-3) in the first inning. After one-out singles by Jean Segura and Robinson Cano put runners at first and third, Cruz crushed a 1-2 changeup for a three-run homer.
The 444-foot drive landed in the upper deck in left field.
That set the stage for Martin.
New York put runners at first and second with one out in the second inning, but Paxton escaped after Martin made a diving catch on Curtis Granderson’s hooking line drive.
"That’s going to be runs scored right there if he doesn’t make that play," Paxton said. "Him making that catch was huge."
Martin then hit a 396-foot drive to right later in the inning for a homer.
The Mariners caught a break when Ben Gamel followed Martin’s homer with a triple on a ball that left fielder Yoenis Cespedes lost in the sun. Cano’s one-out double extended the lead to 5-0.
It stayed that way until the sixth when, after Fernando Salas replaced Lugo, the Mariners capitalized on an error by second baseman Neil Walker that put Jarrod Dyson on base with one out.
Gamel’s two-out RBI single past third made it 6-0.
The Mariners added another run in the seventh inning against Josh Smoker on Danny Valencia’s sacrifice fly. Another Walker error led to two more runs in the eighth inning.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Martin had not played right field since 2013 before Sunday but marked his return to the majors by making a diving catch in the second inning on Granderson’s one-out hooking line drive.
"He pulled the ball really hard to the side," Martin said, "and it was going away from me."
The Mets had runners at first and second at the time. If the ball gets past Martin, both runners likely would have scored.
"He’s a really good athlete and a natural outfielder," Servais said. "His first-step quickness and his instincts are tremendous. To come in on that ball, topspin hook by Granderson — a big play in the game."
PLUS: Sunday’s victory was the Mariners’ first victory by more than five runs since a 10-0 romp over the Angels on June 30 in Anaheim…Pagan had four strikeouts while retiring all six batters faced in his two innings. He has allowed one run in his last 21 1/3 innings over eight games…Cano went 2-for-5 in breaking out of an 0-for-10 slide…Cruz’s homer was his first since July 17 and ended a run of 50 plate appearances without one.
MINUS: There wasn’t much not to like, although when Pazos allowed three two-out singles in the ninth, it prevented the Mariners from recording their 10th shutout victory. They remained tied with Cleveland for the league lead with nine.
STAT PACK: Gamel extended his hitting streak to a career-high 16 games when his high fly to left in the second inning turned into a triple when Cespedes lost the ball in the sun. The Mariners’ longest hitting streak of the season was a 17-game run by Segura from April 30 to May 18.
QUOTABLE: Asked whether he had ever previously won six games in a calendar month at any point in his career, Paxton said: "No, I haven’t. This is a first for me. It’s a good feeling."
SHORT HOPS: Cano’s double in second inning was the 497th of his career, which ties Hall of Famer Sam Rice for 67th place on MLB’s all-time list…Mets shortstop Jose Reyes left the game after being hit in the left wrist by a Paxton pitch in the fifth inning…the Mets’ nine hits were all singles.
ON DECK: The Mariners open a three-city road trip at 5:05 p.m. Pacific time Monday at Texas. Right-hander Felix Hernandez (5-4 with a 4.08 ERA) will oppose Rangers left-hander Cole Hamels (5-1, 3.97).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN and the Mariners Radio Network.
The continues with two more games at Texas and four at Kansas City before concluding with two in Oakland.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners