Seattle Mariners

Mariners 3, Angels 1: James Paxton’s gem caps series sweep — and elbow is OK, too

Seattle starting pitcher James Paxton throws against the Los Angeles Angels in the fifth inning Sunday in Seattle.
Seattle starting pitcher James Paxton throws against the Los Angeles Angels in the fifth inning Sunday in Seattle. The Associated Press

It started as Ken Griffey Jr.’s day – the final of this Griffey celebration weekend.

It also started as Mike Trout’s day. He turned 25 on Sunday.

Then James Paxton went out and made it one of the worst days of Trout’s career at the plate, striking him out four times, and the best day of the year for Paxton at the mound before he exited two outs away from his first career complete game after a line drive struck his left elbow.

Tom Wilhelmsen then closed the game out as the Seattle Mariners held on for a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday afternoon to cap a three-game sweep – the Mariners’ first sweep of the Angels since Sept. 26-28 of 2014.

"I just feel sick to my stomach for him," Mariners manager Scott Servais said of Paxton, who was diagnosed after the game with a left-elbow contusion and is day-to-day. "We’re starting to see him emerge before our eyes, and that’s why I am obviously really, really hoping everything is OK."

Paxton tossed at least eight innings for the second consecutive start, allowing one unearned run and five hits with six strikeouts.

He pitched brilliantly enough to help the Mariners (57-53) get a comeback victory for the third consecutive day during three-game stretch that saw a combined 130,784 fans, most there to witness the myriad of Griffey festivities.

"It’s huge – it’s nice to come out here and play some good baseball, especially with the type of weekend it was with Griffey being here and his number retiring," Mariners catcher Mike Zunino said. "It was just an extra level of excitement for us."

The Sunday crowd of 44,812 gave a standing ovation minutes after the game for a player more than 1,300 miles away.

Video from the Miami Marlins game in Denver against the Colorado Rockies showed former Mariner Ichiro Suzuki hitting a triple off the wall for his 3,000th career hit – 2,533 coming in 1,844 games with the Mariners – just minutes after Wilhelmsen’s first save of the season.

But this was also Mike Freeman’s day. Ichiro became the 30th player in MLB history to get 3,000 hits, and Freeman recorded his first MLB hit – and later his first RBI – in his Mariners debut.

Freeman was 0-for-9 with the Arizona Diamondbacks this year before the Mariners claimed the utility player off of waivers last week.

He slapped a single to left field in the third inning – the Mariners’ first hit of the game. Then he gave the Mariners a 3-1 lead with an RBI single in bottom of the fourth, finishing the game 2-for-3 and with a Gatorade shower in the dugout after the game.

"Obviously there were nerves," Freeman said. "I feel nervous pretty much before every game. But just to be back in the big leagues – a lot of excitement. … I told myself I had been doing it the past four days, it’s just another game."

Let’s set the stage.

Remember Shawn O’Malley’s day on Saturday? When he followed his go-ahead three-run home run with a running web gem at shortstop in the top of the eighth inning?

The first play hit to him on Sunday turned into a groundball error in the top of the third inning. And then it turned into the Angels’ first run – unearned – when Albert Pujols later singled to left field with two outs.

That was the lone blemish against Paxton, who highlighted his second-consecutive scintillating start with four strikeouts of Trout – on an 83-mph curveball, 90-mph cutter, 98-mph fastball, and 85-mph curveball.

This was the same Trout who rocketed a three-run home run in his first at-bat against Felix Hernandez on Friday, then another three-run shot his against Taijuan Walker on Saturday.

To Trout’s credit, he made the play of the game defensively.

He fully extended his glove over the center-field wall, 401 feet from home plate, to rob Leonys Martin of what would have been a for-sure grand slam – a play Trout’s idol, Griffey, so often did in Seattle throughout the 1990s.

Nelson Cruz gave Martin some guff for it in the clubhouse afterward.

"Hey – tomorrow, come early," Nelson told him. "You’re working out with me."

"Oh my God … as soon as I hit that ball, I knew it was going to be gone," Martin said. "This ballpark is ridiculous."

Instead of a grand slam, it was a long, long sacrifice fly to score Seth Smith and give the Mariners a 2-1 lead.

"I was standing right there – he deserves to be struck out four times after robbing Leonys of four RBIs," Wilhelmsen said. "Just an incredible catch, and I’ve seen him do that against us numerous times. And I got to say – I’m pretty fed up with it."

But the game still ended as quite a day for the Mariners – a day for a pair of past greats in Griffey and Ichiro, and a day to remember for a couple current players in Paxton (considering his performance and that X-rays on his elbow came back negative), and Freeman.

Oh, and that three-game sweep.

PLAY OF THE GAME: Trout timed his leap at the center-field wall perfectly, snagging what was destined to be a grand slam off Martin’s bat in the bottom of the fourth inning.

"That’s trout," Angels manager Mike Scoscia said. "He’s made some catches that were even tougher, but that one obviously, going to the wall, saving those runs is huge."

Regardless – it still panned out well for the Mariners. It drove home the go-ahead run with Kyle Seager tagging up from third base after Nelson Cruz tied it up earlier in the inning with an RBI single.

PLUS: Paxton tossed a career high 8 1/3 innings, allowing one unearned run and five hits to improve to 4-5. He also struck out Trout four times, tying the most Trout has struck out in a game.

The only other time Trout has struck out four times? It came against Paxton on Sept. 17, 2014. He is batting .100 (2-for-20) against Paxton in his career.

MINUS: The only real minus from this game was Paxton’s injury, diagnosed as a left-elbow contusion after X-rays came back negative after the game. He is listed as day-to-day.

STAT PACK: Freeman made his Mariners debut after being called up from Triple-A Tacoma to start the game for Robinson Cano, who had his consecutive games played streak snapped at 167 games. That was the longest active streak in the majors. Servais said he wanted to give Cano a day off while the Mariners are in the midst of playing 32 games in 33 days.

QUOTABLE: Servais said if closer Edwin Diaz had been available, they would have turned to him to pitch the ninth inning instead of sending Paxton back out.

"Even so, I think it’s good for pitchers to go through a whole game and try to finish it off," Servais said. "I really thought it was his day. Talking to him after the eighth inning, he felt great and wanted to go back out there. I said, ‘It’s your day. Go out there and finish it.’ Can’t say enough about the job he did."

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677