TORONTO — James Paxton lifted his arms in triumph and hugged each of his Seattle teammates after no-hitting the Blue Jays on Tuesday night.
And as he left the field, he held up his forearm — tattooed with a large maple leaf — to make sure everyone remembered where he came from.
Paxton, a 29-year-old left-hander from Ladner, became just the second Canadian (and first in 73 years) to pitch a no-hitter in the major leagues.
“Pretty amazing. To have it happen in Canada, what are the odds?,” an elated Paxton said after the 5-0 Mariners victory. “It’s pretty amazing and it’s very special. And against the Blue Jays, yeah, you couldn’t write this stuff.”
Paxton’s tattoo, which covers a large portion of the forearm on his right arm, depicts a landscape of B.C.’s Bowyer Island within a maple leaf. His family has a cabin on the island, where he spent a lot of his summers growing up.
“(It’s) just is a place that reminds me of family,” said Paxton. “It’s a special thing for me, having not lived in Canada for the past 10 years or so, it just reminds me of home.”
Paxton, nicknamed The Big Maple, looked at home Tuesday night, striking out seven and walking three over a masterful 99-pitch performance.
The last Canadian to throw a complete no-hitter in majors was Toronto-born Dick Fowler, who threw one for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1945 in his first start in three years after serving for the Canadian army in the Second World War.
Paxton hadn’t heard of Fowler until Tuesday night, but he was happy to join him in Canadian history.
“There have been some great pitchers who are Canadian to have come through the major leagues,” he said. “I’m very honoured to be the next guy.”
Greg Hamilton, who coached Paxton on Canada’s junior team in 2005 and 2006, including the 2006 world junior championships in Cuba, called the no-hitter ”incredibly special.”
“A Canadian kid that’s born and raised in Canada and comes through the programs in Canada to pitch against Canada’s major league team and have him throw a no-hitter … (it’s) incredibly impactful for the nation, certainly for generations for young, aspiring baseball players in Canada,” he said.
Even from a young age, Paxton’s potential was noticeable, Hamilton said.
“His arm really worked, his frame had a ton of leverage and size in it and you figured that once he filled it out he had the chance to be pretty special,” he said. “He was as a youngster, he was very interesting, very projectable, everything kind of worked and profiled the way you’d like to see in a pitcher.
“The potential to have a power arm, which he does, and the makings of a plus breaking ball to go with it, so he certainly stood out.”
But Paxton remembers a time when he didn’t feel special, including his first major league start at Rogers Centre in 2014.
The lefty lasted just 2 2/3 innings, allowing nine runs and seven hits and walking six batters in a 14-4 Mariners loss.
“I’ve come quite a ways from that,” Paxton said.
The significance of the no-hitter wasn’t lost on Mariners manager Scott Servais.
“To do it here in Toronto was an awesome, awesome experience for him,” Servais said.
Paxton was close to starting his career as a Blue Jay before things went awry following the 2009 draft.
Toronto selected Paxton in the first round (37th overall) that year as a junior from the University of Kentucky, but the sides couldn’t agree on terms of a signing bonus.
When then Blue Jays President Paul Beeston let it slip that Paxton had an agent, his amateur status was called into question and a 20-year-old Paxton was thrown into a legal battle with Kentucky and the NCAA. He ended up pitching in an independent league in Texas, foregoing his senior year, before Seattle selected him in the fourth round of the following draft.
Paxton said that situation didn’t cross his mind as he was dominating the team that caused him so much strife so long ago, but he hasn’t forgotten about it.
“I do think about that from time to time,” Paxton said. “It was a weird way to get to the big leagues, not the normal path. And I think that everything that I went through made me tougher and taught me something.
“I think I’m better for all the challenges I faced to get here.”
— With files from Canadian Press reporter John Chidley-Hill
Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press