NEW YORK -- The announcement that James Paxton had special lightning flowing through his gifted left arm was made early on Tuesday evening, as Austin Romine peered through the bars of his catcher’s mask to track a sizzling 97.9-mph fastball. Mookie Betts watched that pitch too, for a called third
NEW YORK -- The announcement that James Paxton had special lightning flowing through his gifted left arm was made early on Tuesday evening, as Austin Romine peered through the bars of his catcher’s mask to track a sizzling 97.9-mph fastball. Mookie Betts watched that pitch too, for a called third strike.
Paxton told his batterymate that he wanted to keep pounding the strike zone and challenging hitters, and Romine nodded. With an extra gear on his heater to complement a sharp slider and curve, Paxton dominated the foundering Red Sox, striking out 12 in a two-hit performance as the Yankees cruised to an 8-0 laugher at Yankee Stadium.
"It's a big deal because it's against Boston, especially being here," Paxton said. "We want to beat Boston every time. It's a big rivalry. It was a big start for me, just to get my feet under me and show myself that I can be here and do this."
As he prepared for an introduction to baseball's most storied rivalry, Paxton vowed to shake off a trio of middling efforts in his new uniform. He had discovered a helpful hint while reviewing video of previous efforts against Boston, a team against which he now owns a 3-0 career record and 1.89 ERA in five starts.
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In those frame-by-frame breakdowns, Paxton had noticed a subtle difference, deciding that the vintage delivery was one he'd do well to repeat. As he walked to the dugout after a perfect first inning, on his way to retiring the first nine Red Sox, Paxton said that he thought to himself: "I've got some good stuff tonight."
"That’s the type of pitcher we know he is capable of being; a dominant lefty who can command all his pitches," Aaron Judge said. "I was looking up there, might have been the second inning, he was hitting 99 mph. I've seen it from him before. It was good to see him, especially tonight, in a big game like this. He came out to play today. It was awesome."
While the Yankees waited by the bat rack, they likely did not share a similarly glowing scouting report on Chris Sale, who helped end their season last October but has struggled mightily to open the new year. The Yanks thumped the lefty for four runs in five innings, breaking through in the third inning on RBI singles by DJ LeMahieu and Luke Voit.
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Clint Frazier homered and rookie Mike Tauchman knocked a run-scoring double off Sale in the fourth. Paxton already had more support than he would need, but Tauchman celebrated his first career homer in the sixth inning, a three-run shot off Erasmo Ramirez. Gleyber Torres added a solo shot in the seventh to complete the scoring.
"There is a level of feeling we’ve been close, but we just haven’t played that complete game," manager Aaron Boone said. "We've faltered in the starting pitching, or in relief or in the middle innings and haven’t been able to add on runs. Today was that complete game and Pax set that tone."
Indeed, Paxton kept the line moving, a steady stream of Boston batters returning to the dugout with their bat in hand. He became the first pitcher in Yankees history to strike out 12 or more while allowing two or fewer hits to the Red Sox at any iteration of Yankee Stadium.
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"I felt like I was searching before this," Paxton said. "I feel like I really found something tonight. Romine did a fantastic job behind the plate calling the pitches. We worked really well together and the boys made nice plays behind me, too."
Red Sox manager Alex Cora would lament a missed opportunity in the fourth inning, when Betts walked and Xander Bogaerts doubled over a leaping Judge in right field, a ball that struck the top of the wall and came back into play. Paxton responded by inducing a pair of flyouts, then struck out Mitch Moreland to escape.
"He was doing a lot of things right," Romine said of Paxton. "He was just attacking them. There were a lot of uncomfortable at-bats and I didn't see too many good ones being put up. It's good for us."
With the outcome seemingly assured, Paxton completed his 110-pitch gem by getting Betts to lift a fly ball to right field. With Joe Harvey preparing for the final three outs, Paxton left to a standing ovation from the announced crowd of 45,008, doffing his cap and pointing to the field-level seats behind the Yankees' dugout.
"It was special," Paxton said. "I think it's a little different than anywhere else, being in Yankee Stadium and getting that ovation. The fans were great all night. You could hear them and they added a lot of energy. It was awesome."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.