SEATTLE -- There was plenty of no-hitter talk going into Saturday's Mariners-Blue Jays game, but none revolved around Toronto starter Marco Estrada.The storyline was Seattle's James Paxton facing the Blue Jays for the first time since throwing a no-no against them on May 8 at the Rogers Centre. But Estrada
SEATTLE -- There was plenty of no-hitter talk going into Saturday's Mariners-Blue Jays game, but none revolved around Toronto starter Marco Estrada.
The storyline was Seattle's James Paxton facing the Blue Jays for the first time since throwing a no-no against them on May 8 at the Rogers Centre. But Estrada flipped the script at Safeco Field, holding the Mariners hitless until Mitch Haniger's one-out double in the seventh inning as Toronto rolled to a 5-1 victory.
The Mariners' offense remained in the deep freeze as Seattle lost its fifth straight and 16th in the past 23 games to drop to 63-48. With the Astros and A's both winning, the Mariners are now 7 1/2 games back of Houston for the American League West lead and 2 1/2 behind Oakland for the AL's second Wild Card spot.
"We keep playing the same record over and over and over," said Mariners manager Scott Servais.
It's been a swift fall for a Seattle club seeking its first postseason berth since 2001 and not even Paxton could halt the slide as he gave up eight hits and three runs in seven innings, leaving him at 9-5 with a 3.51 ERA on the year.
"It was a different team this time around," Paxton said of his rematch with the Blue Jays. "I didn't have very good stuff tonight. Breaking stuff wasn't very good, location wasn't very good. I really had to grind. I didn't have nearly as good of stuff as the last time I faced them. We had to do some different things and battle our way through it."
The big lefty pitched well enough to keep his team in the game, but as has been the tale for the past month, Seattle's offense remained AWOL. The Mariners have the second-lowest run total in the Majors -- behind only Detroit -- since July 4 and have scored three runs or fewer in six straight games and 18 of their past 23.
"I thought Pax threw the ball pretty well tonight," Servais said. "The breaking stuff wasn't quite as consistent early on and they were certainly geared up for the fastball. Why wouldn't they be? Pax has a good one,and they know they're going to get one. But the back and forth, the curveball took a little while to get going, just the tightness and crispness to it.
"But he did his job. You go seven innings and keep us in the ballgame. Again, we just really struggled to get anything going offensively."
Estrada (5-8, 4.56) wound up allowing just the one hit and one run in seven-plus innings, with two walks and four strikeouts in 93 pitches. Seattle's lone run came when Ryon Healy drew a leadoff walk from Estrada in the eighth, then wound up scoring on a sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Chris Herrmann off reliever Dennis Tepera.
Haniger's double was his first extra-base hit in 18 games dating back to July 10. The All-Star right fielder has hit .222 (14-for-63) with just four RBIs in that span.
The Mariners finished with three hits and have now been outscored 32-11 during their five-game skid.
"It's tough," said Paxton. "We're in a rough stretch right now. But we're confident we'll turn it around. We're a good team here. We're just going through a rough patch, but things will turn around and we'll get hot and make a run for it here."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Nothing seemed more fitting regarding the Mariners' recent run than seeing Nelson Cruz unleash a towering drive projected at 399 feet to dead center off Estrada that wound up being caught at the wall by Kevin Pillar to end the fourth. And Toronto's next batter, Aledmys Diaz, then led off the fifth with a 395-foot homer to left field for a 3-0 lead.
"It's nice to play in a stadium like this," said Estrada. "I don't know if our stadium would have held onto that ball, but as soon as he hit it I knew it was going to be close. I wasn't sure how close, I think he maybe got underneath it a little bit, but it worked out. It was caught. That's all that matters."
The Blue Jays have certainly had an impact on how the AL Wild Card chase is playing out. Toronto is now 4-2 against Seattle and 0-7 against the A's.
HE SAID IT
"We've got to try to simplify things a little. Instead of making it harder, we have to make it simpler, because right now what we're doing is not working." -- Servais, on the Mariners' approach at the plate
Mike Leake (8-7, 4.16 ERA) faces former Mariner right-hander Sam Gaviglio (2-4, 5.10) in Sunday's 1:10 p.m. PT series finale looking to avoid the series sweep by the Blue Jays. Leake has gone 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA in three career starts against Toronto, including a 9-3 victory at Rogers Centre on May 10 this year when he allowed two runs over seven innings. Gaviglio started 11 games for Seattle last season before being claimed off waivers by the Royals in late August and then traded to Toronto this spring.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.