ST. PETERSBURG -- James Paxton didn't have his no-hit stuff Sunday, but even a less-than-perfect Paxton is pretty impressive, as the big lefty shook off a mid-game cramp in his left forearm and struck out 10 over seven innings in a 5-4 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field.The Mariners'
ST. PETERSBURG -- James Paxton didn't have his no-hit stuff Sunday, but even a less-than-perfect Paxton is pretty impressive, as the big lefty shook off a mid-game cramp in his left forearm and struck out 10 over seven innings in a 5-4 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field.
The Mariners' offense supported Paxton with a trio of home runs -- including a go-ahead two-run shot by Kyle Seager in the seventh -- as Seattle now heads home holding onto first place in the American League West at 41-24 after completing a 4-2 road trip.
Paxton, who has dealt with a series of injuries in previous years, said he grew a little hesitant with some of his pitches in the fourth when he gave up two runs on a C.J. Cron solo homer and a pair of doubles, but then worked through his forearm issue and retired 11 of the final 12 hitters he faced.
"Once I figured out I was OK, I started letting it rip again," Paxton said. "We checked it out and it's all fine. It was just a little something where I was getting in a bad position on my cutter, I think. I just have to get the hand back on top to allow it to be easier on my arm a little bit."
Paxton certainly isn't being easy on opposing batters, as he's 5-0 with a 1.87 ERA over his last eight starts.
"If his struggles are seven innings and three runs, that's pretty good. We'll take that," said Seager. "He's been incredible. They put him on the ropes a little the one inning, but he still kept his pitch count down and worked through seven. If that's your off-day, I'll take that guy on my team."
The Mariners have won 17 of their past 22 games and continue surviving on the edge. They're 21-9 in one-run games -- the most in the Majors. The Rays, on the flip side, have lost 17 one-run games, also the most in MLB.
"We're winning, so that's all right,' said Seager. "Whether we're winning by 10 or one, as long as we're winning, that's what we're worried about."
Seattle finished the season series with a 6-1 advantage over the Rays, with the six wins coming by a combined seven runs.
Paxton allowed three runs -- equaling the most he's given up in his past nine starts -- and five hits in a solid seven-inning outing. The lefty didn't walk a batter while racking up his fifth double-digit strikeout game of the season, and is now 6-1 with a 3.02 ERA in 14 starts.
Still, Paxton trailed 3-1 until Mike Zunino tied it with a two-run homer in the sixth and Seager followed with his own two-run blast in the seventh.
Nelson Cruz got Seattle on the board with a leadoff homer off Nathan Eovaldi in the second and now shares the team lead with Mitch Haniger at 13. Seager now has a dozen homers and Zunino is at 10.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Former Rays closer Alex Colome allowed a run-scoring single in the eighth as Tampa Bay closed within a run, but Edwin Diaz hung on for his MLB-leading 23rd save when Haniger got the final out by throwing out Johnny Field trying to score from first after Haniger momentarily lost a bloop single by Mallex Smith on a sliding attempt.
"We were playing no-doubles, and it was kind of a soft flare, so I just tried to make the catch. And when I knew I wasn't going to get to it, I tried to keep it in front," Haniger said. "It kind of popped up and I didn't know where it was, but I found it and just threw home. I wasn't sure if he was going to go home or not, but I just came up firing."
Cruz is definitely heating up, which is a good sign for the Mariners' offense. The designated hitter has homered in back-to-back games, and has hit six home runs in his past 15 games after totaling seven in his first 37 games of the year. He's batted .327 (18-for-55) with 14 RBIs in that span to lift his season totals to .254 and 33 RBIs.
The Mariners 21 one-run wins are the most in a team's first 65 games of a season since data became available in 1908, according to Baseball-Reference.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Ben Gamel has played left field most of the season. But with Haniger starting in center in order to give Guillermo Heredia a day off, Gamel moved to right and flashed some impressive leather, including a full-out diving catch of a foul ball down the line to get Paxton out of the fifth inning.
HE SAID IT
"Sometimes, when Paxton is out there, he can dominate and it looks easy. [Today], it wasn't easy. It wasn't easy at all, but after giving up the three runs, he really buckled down." -- Mariners manager Scott Servais
Wade LeBlanc (1-0, 2.95 ERA) gets the ball for Monday's 7:10 p.m. PT series opener at Safeco Field against Angels lefty Andrew Heaney (3-4, 4.12). LeBlanc has allowed just nine earned runs in seven starts since moving into the rotation, with the Mariners going 5-2 in those games. The 33-year-old pitched 10 games for the Angels in 2014, but this will be the first time he's faced the Halos in his 10-year career.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.