As any parent can attest, baby steps are sometimes the biggest.
The Mariners, with a 5-0 victory Saturday over the Texas Rangers, have now won consecutive games for the first time this season and have also clinched their first series victory (with a chance for a sweep on Sunday).
They did it because James Paxton delivered a third straight dominant effort (VIDEO LINK) in stretching his scoreless streak to a franchise-record 21 innings at the start of a season.
Anything but baby steps.
"You can’t say enough about what Pax did tonight and the start that he’s off to," manager Scott Servais said. "I had a feeling this could be his breakout year after what we saw last year.
"He’s just continued to build off that and to grow. Confidence. The stuff has always been there. The secondary pitches now are real weapons."
The Mariners needed Paxton to be in top form because they spent the early innings squandering a series of scoring opportunities against Rangers starter Andrew Cashner, who was activated earlier in the day from the disabled list.
Then came a five-run burst in the sixth inning. First, Kyle Seager flicked a two-run single (VIDEO LINK) into right field with the bases loaded that knocked out Cashner.
"That way Paxton was throwing," Seager said, "you feel if you get a run, we’re going to be in good shape. One run would have felt like three there. Paxton was phenomenal all night, and he’s been phenomenal all season."
Taylor Motter followed with a 424-foot rocket to left field (VIDEO LINK) against reliever Mike Hauschild for a three-run homer and a five-run lead.
"He left it up a little bit," Motter said, "and I just got the barrel to it."
Paxton (2-0) took it from there. He allowed just two hits in eight innings while striking out nine and walking one — the first hitter of the game — in a superb 114-pitch performance.
"I’m just going out there and giving everything I’ve got," he said. "I’ve just found a better way to do it, I guess. I’m just making some good pitches. The fastball has some good run on it. It’s jumping at the plate."
When Paxton walked from the mound after striking out the side in the eighth, the crowd seemed to realize he was done and rose in salute, which prompted a few return waves in acknowledgement.
"Paxton threw the ball extremely well against us tonight," Texas manager Jeff Banister said. "He was able to expand (the zone) when he got ahead, used his breaking pitch and changeup to keep us off-balance."
Nick Vincent closed out the victory by striking out the side in the ninth.
The Mariners are 4-8 and, if not yet clicking in all phases, at least show signs of a steadying pulse.
"We obviously didn’t get off to a good start," Seager said. "We know that. We also know who we have in this room, and we understand that it’s a long season.
"It’s obviously nice winning a series, but we’re just going to go out there and try to win (Sunday) as well."
Paxton didn’t allow a hit until Joey Gallo’s one-out double through the shift in the sixth inning.
Gallo moved to third on a wild pitch, although it required a replay challenge to overturn an "out" call by umpire Manny Gonzalez.
Paxton escaped by striking out Delino DeShields before Carlos Gomez tried for a bunt and popped the ball to Seager at third.
"I needed it right there," Paxton said. "At that point, the game was still 0-0. That was a big run to keep off the board. It kind of got our boys going."
Everything changed in the bottom of the inning.
Mitch Haniger reached on a one-out single through shortstop Elvis Andrus and went to second when Andrus mishandled Robinson Cano’s grounder for an error.
When Cashner walked Nelson Cruz, the Mariners had the bases loaded with one out. And then, finally, a big hit.
Seager yanked a full-count changeup through the right side for a two-run single, which knocked out Cashner.
Motter then crushed a 0-1 slider from Hauschild to left for a three-run homer. That quickly, the lead was 5-0 and the crowd of 34,927 merrily went into a wave.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Seager’s two-run single broke the ice in the five-run sixth inning.
PLUS: Other than Paxton? Vincent struck out the side in the ninth inning…Haniger went 2-for-4 and raised his average to .292…Motter is 7-for-21 this season with six extra-base hits (four doubles and two homers)…Cruz had a double and two walks in three plate appearances.
MINUS: Cano was hitless in four at-bats with four pretty weak grounders…Jarrod Dyson was 0-for-3, which dropped his average to .179.
STAT PACK: The victory couldn’t quite cover up another atrocious showing with runners in scoring position: 2-for-11. (The exceptions were Seager’s single, and Motter’s homer.)
The Mariners are now 17-for-108 with RISP, a .157 average.
"We have had some struggles getting that guy in from third," Servais said. "We haven’t had great at-bats in those situations."
QUOTABLE: Paxton’s 21 scoreless innings to start a season is a franchise record. The previous best was 17 2/3 innings by Mark Lowe in 2006.
"It’s a nice record," he admitted.
When it was pointed out the Mariners had enjoyed some notable pitchers over the franchise’s 40-year history, Paxton said: "Yeah, some real good pitchers. One is sitting over in that corner."
SHORT HOPS: The Rangers activated Cashner from the disabled list prior to the game after clearing roster space by optioning right-handed pitcher Nick Martinez to Triple-A Round Rock…Danny Valencia, Leonys Martin and Mike Zunino each had one hit. It’s a start.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners