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MLB

Canadian Paxton left feeling blue after Jays post shutout win

By Rob Longley, Toronto Sun

The ball bounces from the glove of Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and onto the back of Seattle Mariners’ Ben Gamel Sunday, June 11, 2017, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The ball bounces from the glove of Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and onto the back of Seattle Mariners’ Ben Gamel Sunday, June 11, 2017, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

SEATTLE — There have been enough days in the young and impressive baseball life of Canadian pitcher James Paxton that he might have wished the Blue Jays didn’t exist.

And you can probably add a glorious Sunday afternoon at Safeco Park to the list.

It was glorious to the thousands of Jays fans who took over the place again, anyway, starting with a two-run homer from Josh Donaldson in the first inning, the big blow in a 4-0 Toronto win.

In the process, the Jays handed the Ladner, B.C., native his first loss of the season, chasing him from the game after just four innings.

“He’s blown me up in the past. He’s tough on any hitter,” said Donaldson, who added an RBI single in the fourth inning. “He’s got really good stuff and in my opinion, he’s probably one of the tougher lefties in the game. Today, I was able to get fortunate.”

The early blow was especially significant, given that it gave Happ some breathing room.

And the resulting win was notable, giving the Jays a 2-1 series victory over the Mariners and allowing them to return home 3-3 from the week-long West Coast road trip.

The Yankees may be slugging themselves away from the rest of the AL East, but the Jays’ win moved them to within 1.5 games of a wild-card spot.

Heading into this one, however, the pitching edge appeared to go to the Mariners’ 6-foot-4, 235-pound Canadian who goes by the handle, Big Maple.

The 28-year-old left-hander brought a 5-0 record and 1.69 ERA into Sunday’s game, played before thousands of baseball fans from his home province.

But after Jays leadoff hitter Kevin Pillar doubled, Donaldson did his thing, hitting his eighth homer of the season and sixth in 14 games since returning to the lineup after an extended stint on the DL.

It was an uncharacteristic start for Paxton, who gave up just his second homer of the season, and one that continued the frustration that has defined his relationship with the Jays.

After being selected 37th overall by Toronto in the 2009 amateur draft, acrimonious negotiations ensued and Paxton ended up unsigned. The situation was made worse by the fact that he was banned from his senior year at the University of Kentucky after then Jays president Paul Beeston talked publicly about negotiations with Paxton’s agent, Scott Boras.

That’s a no-no under NCAA rules and Paxton headed to the Independent League for a season, after which he was drafted by the Mariners 132nd overall in the 2010 draft.

“You could tell he was a little bit off location-wise, especially early,” Jays manager John Gibbons said of the former Delta Secondary School student. “That was a good thing for us.”

HAPPY WITH HAPP

The victory also signalled the return to form of Happ, who was making his third appearance since returning from the disabled list.

Happ, the 20-game winner from a year ago, had eight strikeouts in six shutout innings for his first win of 2017 and, more importantly, felt like he’s ready to resume an important role in the Jays rotation.

“I felt strong out there,” said Happ, who was facing his former team.

“I felt like I had more life than I had in the first two outings on my fastball. That’s a good sign for sure.”

Happ said he was also emboldened by being staked to an early 2-0 lead.

“It feels good just to go out there and be even more aggressive and stick to your game plan,” said Happ, who threw a season-high 104 pitches.

“It’s easier to do that when you’ve got a couple of points on the board.”

ROAD WARRIORS

After a 1-2 stutter-start in Oakland to start the six-game trip, the Jays were pleased to take a 3-3 mark with them on the team charter. Winning two out of three in Seattle gave them a 13-6 mark over their past 19 games.

There is an understanding, however, that they need to do some damage at home to continue a push towards the playoffs.

“On the road, your goal is to come out 50-50 and if you can do better, it’s a bonus,” Donaldson said. “I felt like we played well the last two days. At home is where we have to put in our work.”

QUICK HITS

The Jays once again were overwhelmed by the support of the Canadian fans in the crowd of 41,137 at Safeco, one of the modern gems of baseball stadiums. As they exited the field to a huge roar, several Jays players tipped their hats in salute … It was the Jays’ fourth shutout of the season and first since May 18 in Atlanta. Two of those blackings have come against the Mariners, who are now 1-6 vs. the Jays this season … Three of Donaldson’s eight homers this season have come in the first inning … The series win over the Mariners had some extra juice given that they entered it on a 10-3 run. It also allowed the Jays to leap the M’s in the AL wild-card standings.