PHILADELPHIA — James Paxton compounded the shortest and worst outing of his 10-start career Wednesday with a costly throwing error — and the result was the first loss of his career.
Paxton’s troubles also included a cross-up with catcher Jesus Sucre, which resulted in a passed ball, and highlighted a frustrating afternoon for the Mariners in a 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
The throwing error and passed ball each came in a three-run fourth inning that wiped out a two-run lead.
“It came down to making that throw to first,” Paxton said. “That cost us today, and that can’t happen.”
The Mariners actually let two early leads slip away and failed to punish Phillies starter Cole Hamels, who wasn’t much better than Paxton in throwing 99 pitches in five innings.
Hamels (7-6) gave up three runs, nine hits and threw two wild pitches before handing a one-run lead to the bullpen which, in contrast, was air-tight in protecting the one-run lead over the final four innings.
Jake Diekman breezed through the sixth and seventh. Ken Giles worked around a two-out double in eighth by striking out the side. Jonathan Papelbon pitched a scoreless ninth for his 30th save in 33 chances.
“I felt like we gave the game away,” right fielder Logan Morrison said. “We had opportunities early. Errors and passed balls or wild pitches — whatever they were — gave them four runs.”
The loss dropped the Mariners (68-58) to one-half game behind Detroit in the battle for the American League’s final wild-card berth — pending the outcome of the Tigers’ game Wednesday night at Tampa Bay.
Paxton (3-1) was 6-0 with a 1.88 ERA in his nine previous career starts, but he squandered two early leads while giving up four runs and seven hits in just four innings.
Three runs were unearned due to his own throwing error in a three-run fourth. The Phillies led 4-3 when Tom Wilhelmsen replaced Paxton to start the fifth inning.
And that’s how it ended.
Paxton had not pitched less than 4 1/3 innings in any previous start — and that previous low was Aug. 2 in Baltimore in his first outing after spending nearly four months on the disabled list because of a strained back muscle.
Further, he had never yielded more than three runs before Wednesday.
“His pitch count got up,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I didn’t think he struggled early. I thought he was really making some pretty good pitches. They just put some good at-bats on him.
“Things just got away from him in the one inning. He threw the ball away, and he crossed the catcher up. Those things happen. It’s part of the growing pains.”
The Mariners grabbed a 1-0 lead when Kendrys Morales led off the second inning with a 430-foot homer to dead center on a 3-1 fastball.
Paxton escaped threats in the first two innings but failed to do so in the third after Jimmy Rollins drove a one-out double to left center, and Chase Utley followed with a walk.
Ryan Howard flied to left, but Marlon Byrd sent a broken-bat blooper to right for a two-out RBI single.
The Mariners answered immediately.
Kyle Seager started the fourth with a walk before the Mariners caught a break when third baseman Andres Blanco threw wide to second in trying to turn Chris Denorfia’s grounder into a force out.
The play ended with runners on first and third. The scoring credited Denorfia with a single and assessed Blanco with an error for permitting Seager to reach third.
Morrison followed with an RBI double to left-center field for a 2-1 lead before the Mariners ran themselves into an out. Denorfia broke for home on an apparent squeeze play, but Jesus Sucre didn’t offer at the ball.
Denorfia was an easy out. Everything suggested Sucre missed a sign, but McClendon said only: “Fact is, it didn’t go right. It makes no difference who screwed up or who did what. It was a screwed-up play.”
Sucre singled to right, which moved Morrison to third. Sucre took second on Paxton’s sacrifice before the Mariners got another gift when Hamels bounced a run-scoring wild pitch past catcher Wil Nieves.
The Mariners led 3-1.
Paxton gave it right back…and more.
Nieves started the Phillies fourth with a single to center before Blanco sent a sharp hopper back to the box. The ball struck Paxton on a cleat of his left shoe, but he recovered in plenty of time for a play at first.
But Paxton threw the ball into right field for a two-base error that put runners at second and third with no outs. Next came the passed ball, which scored Nieves and moved Blanco to third.
Paxton said the passed ball occurred because he “mis-saw” the number of fingers that Sucre put down for the pitch. Hamels struck out, but Ben Revere tied the game with an RBI grounder to short.
Rollins then reached on an infield single and went to second on a wild pitch, which enabled him to score on Utley’s check-swing single to right. The Phillies led 4-3.
“I thought that was a pretty good pitch,” Paxton said. “I could have buried it a little bit more, but there’s not much you can do when a guy throws his bat at the ball, and it gets in there. That happens.”