Eh-mazing! James Paxton throws sixth no-hitter in Mariners history

TORONTO — His uniform was soaked in a bluish hue. His hair was drenched and sticky from a Powerade shower. And the euphoria of his first no-hitter was overwhelming and intoxicating.

Who should I hug?

Who should I thank?

Where are my family and friends that were here to see the greatest moment of my professional career?

What should I do?

Then James Paxton looked down at the black ink permanently etched in the skin of his right forearm, made bright by the liquid that had been dumped on him in celebration. He knew what to do for his family and friends in stands of the Rogers Centre, and the large portion of a crowd of 20,513 still there, applauding and cheering.

Paxton raised his right arm, exposing the massive and elaborate maple leaf tattoo and pointed to it and then the crowd — this was for them. It was a thank you from Canada’s son.

The quiet kid born and raised in Ladner, B.C., who admittedly misses his home country every day and whose left arm seems to have been touched by a lightning bolt, threw his gem Tuesday night in his home country against the Toronto Blue Jays — the team that originally drafted him out of college but failed to sign him over a bonus dispute.

It was the baseball gods working their impish magic and kismet.

“Pretty amazing,” he said. “To have it happen in Canada, what are the odds of that happening? And against the Blue Jays, you can’t write this stuff.”

The score? A 5-0 victory for the Mariners. But the most important figure on that electric monstrosity of a scoreboard high above center field was the 0 in Toronto’s hits column.

And it’s why the Blue Jays crowd was trying to jinx him in the seventh, getting more excited than angry in the eighth, hoping to see history in the ninth and standing, applauding their fellow Canadian long after he registered the final out — a hard ground ball off the bat of Josh Donaldson that Kyle Seager fielded.

Paxton’s appreciation for that ovation was why he waved to the crowd and pointed at the tattoo.

“I was waving to the people I had here, but also really showing my respect to the Canadian fans,” he said. “I really respect their cheers after the game and supporting me. Being Canadian, that was very special. I just wanted to show them that I heard them and I was very grateful.”

He became just the second Canadian-born pitcher to throw a no-hitter, joining Dick Fowler of the Philadelphia A’s. Fowler no-hit the St. Louis Browns on Sept. 9, 1945. Admittedly, Paxton had never heard of Fowler.

“I’m honored to be the second Canadian to throw a no-hitter in the big leagues,” he said. “There have been some great pitchers that have been Canadian that have come through the Major Leagues. And I’m honored to be the next guy.”

Paxton is the fifth Mariners starting pitcher to throw a solo no-hitter in club history, joining Chris Bosio, Randy Johnson, Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, who had the last one on Aug. 12, 2015. He’s the first to do it away from Seattle.

But none of those pitchers had a two-game stretch like Paxton as part of their no-hitters. In his previous outing, he struck out 16 batters.

“This is the best that I’ve ever pitched over two games,” he said. “It was pretty special.”

How special? According to Stats Inc., he is the first American League pitcher to record a 16-strikeout game and a no-hitter in the same season since Nolan Ryan accomplished the feat for the Texas Rangers in the same game on May 1, 1991 — against the Blue Jays.

Like any no-hitter, there are plenty of good plays that need to be made and at least one great one to save it. Dee Gordon caught a pair of tough line drives to center, Ben Gamel ran down a long fly ball in left-center and Ryon Healy made a couple of nice plays at first base on wayward throws.

But the magical hit-saving play came in the seventh inning with two outs and Kevin Pillar at the plate. The Blue Jays center fielder turned on a 98 mph fastball on a 2-2 count, sending a hard ground ball down the third-base line that seemed to be a double.

But Seager, a Gold Glove winner, made a ridiculous diving stop on the ball, scrambled to his feet and threw to first without really looking or pausing. The ball skipped off the turf and into the glove of Healy, beating the speedy Pillar by a step.

“If that ball gets by you, it would’ve been hard to get any sleep tonight,” Seager said. “It’s all got to be in one motion. I remember kind of seeing three guys. One of them was running so don’t throw to that guy. Thankfully Healy’s so big over there.”

After Paxton gave up two hard line drives in the eighth for outs, there was a pretty simple plan going into the ninth inning.

“A couple of guys had squared up some breaking balls in that eighth inning,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “I knew going into the ninth that if we’re going to get beat, I wanted him to get beat with his best stuff.”

And that was that imperious fastball, which seems to pick up speed and life in later innings. Some pitchers wilt after 100 pitches, Paxton’s velocity rarely dips after 80-plus pitches. The ninth provided some extra adrenaline.

A first-pitch, 96-mph fastball on the hands of a swinging Anthony Alford got a weak pop out to right for the first out.

Paxton pumped three straight fastballs — all strikes — to Teoscar Hernandez — 97 mph, 96 mph and 97 mph for a strikeout swinging.

With two outs and the no-hitter an out away, the Blue Jays’ best hitter stepped to the plate. Donaldson, the 2015 AL MVP and still one of the most feared hitters in baseball, would have been the perfect spoiler.

A younger version of Paxton might have tried off-speed pitches to trick Donaldson. The current version of Paxton has developed a killer instinct under the easygoing off-the-field persona. There was no letting up.

“I mean it’s Josh Donaldson, the guy is pretty good,” he said. “I was like, ‘I’m going to bring my best stuff here. I’m going to rear back and throw it is as hard as I can.’ Fastball is my best pitch. They know it and I know it. And I’m going to let it rip at the top of the zone and see what happens.”

Paxton fired a 99 mph fastball on the first pitch for a swinging strike. It was his fastest pitch of the game until he rocketed a 100 mph fastball on the inside corner that Donaldson fouled off on the next pitch. There was no debate about what pitch No. 3 would be — another 99-mph fastball on the inside corner that Donaldson was waiting for.

“I threw that pitch as hard as I could,” Paxton said. “I saw that ball rocket to third and I spun around and it looked like Seager caught it with his stomach. And then he’s throwing the ball to first base and I was just kind of shocked. I was like, ‘Holy smokes, I can’t believe this just happened.’ And then I looked straight for Zunino and I saw him running at me. I just threw my hands in the air and just enjoyed the moment with my teammates. It wouldn’t have happened without that group of guys out there tonight. I think everyone had a hand in this.”

Perhaps, but this goes back to Paxton and his growth from a thrower to a pitcher, from potential to possible All-Star. It hasn’t been a straight path.

He’s heard the jokes about his health.

“My first start here in Toronto, you might not remember it, but I do,” he said. “I went 1.1 innings and gave up nine earned runs. So I’ve come quite a ways since that. I’ve battled injuries almost every year of my career so far. Knock on wood, I will be able to stay healthy this year.

“It’s been a long road and I’ve had lots of help along the way.”