By Dhiren Mahiban and Alykhan Ravjiani
TORONTO -- James Paxton stole the show and had a night to remember at Rogers Centre on Friday, as the left-hander struck out nine Blue Jays and helped the Mariners take the first game of their weekend series, 2-1.
Paxton kept Toronto off balance all night, surrendering just three hits over seven innings. The nine strikeouts were one off a career-high for the 27-year-old southpaw, who helped the Mariners open their eight-game road trip on a high note.
"The difference for me, tonight, with Paxton, was the depth of his breaking ball; the curveball and the slider ... kept them off the fastball," said Mariners manager Scott Servais.
Coming off a performance in which he allowed nine hits and six runs against the Astros, Paxton spotted his fastball, while using his curveball against the Blue Jays' right-handed heavy lineup. A native of Ladner, British Columbia, the Canadian left-hander walked one batter and needed 97 pitches to cruise through seven innings, allowing only Michael Saunders' second inning home run to cross the plate.
"I was staying on top of the ball," Paxton said. "Before these starts, I was creeping down a little bit, getting too sidearm, getting too much on the side of the ball, [which] wasn't allowing me to get on top of the curveball. Bringing my arm up a little more has allowed me to get on top of that curveball."
Activated from the disabled list prior to the game, Estrada made his first start in over three weeks and battled for six innings. The finesse right-hander -- who entered play allowing a league-best .173 opponents' batting average -- allowed seven hits and hit two batters but limited the Mariners to two earned runs and worked out of trouble all night. The 33-year-old gave up a run in the first inning on a forceout by Robinson Cano and allowed a softly-hit RBI double by Seth Smith in the fifth.
"I felt good out there, just rust," Estrada said. "I threw a lot of first-pitch balls and was behind in the count a lot today. It was tough, it was a grind today. I guess it's to be expected when you miss that much time, but I still battled, kept the team in the game and you've got to tip your hat to the other [guy] for pitching a heck of a game. You're going to run into guys who pitch that well sometimes, and that's what happened today.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Stranded in the sixth: It looked as though the Mariners would blow the game open in the top of the sixth inning, but Estrada was able to keep Seattle off the board with some help from his defense. Estrada loaded up the bases with one out in the inning, but he struck out shortstop Shawn O'Malley with his signature changeup before Kevin Pillar made a fantastic catch on Norichika Aoki's sinking liner to center field. Although the Mariners carried a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the inning, Seattle went 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position against Estrada and left 10 men on base.
"I guess I made pitches when I needed to," Estrada said. "We elevated a lot today, and I kind of had to. I was having a hard time throwing it in where I wanted to, but I was trying to go up and in anyways. It seemed to work. I had a few pop flies and that helped me a lot in those situations."
Leading off: Aoki got the Mariners' offense going early with a leadoff triple to right-center field and later scoring on a Cano fielder's choice. Aoki finished the night 2-for-5 with a pair of extra base hits.
Hello old friend: Playing his former team for the first time since being traded to the Blue Jays in December of 2014, Saunders tied the game at 1 with a solo shot to left field in the bottom of the second inning. According to Statcast™, Saunders' 17th home run of the season went a projected 382 feet and came off the bat at 102 mph. Saunders played the first six seasons of his Major League career with the Mariners and went 1-for-4 on Friday, including a game-ending strikeout with the tying and go-ahead runs on base.
"It was something I was looking forward to last year, obviously," Saunders said about facing the Mariners. "I missed that opportunity last year unfortunately, but I still have a lot of friends that I stay in touch with, so I guess that was the thing I was most excited about playing them, just seeing my old friends and old teammates. But as soon as the game starts, you step between the lines and you go out there and try to win." More >
Old stomping ground:Adam Lind didn't waste any time getting his first hit against his former team. The Mariners' first baseman doubled off Estrada in the fourth inning. Estrada and Lind were dealt for one another in November 2014 in a deal between the Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers
The Blue Jays appeared to have turned a highlight-reel defensive play in the third when Darwin Barney threw out Aoki at second base. However, after a review, the Mariners' left-fielder was called safe at second.
WHAT'S NEXT Mariners:Hisashi Iwakuma (10-6, 4.01) takes the bump for the Mariners in search of his fourth consecutive win with first pitch going at 10:07 a.m. PT. The right-hander pitched seven scoreless innings and allowed just two hits while striking out eight with one walk his last time out on July 16 against the Houston Astros.
Blue Jays:R.A. Dickey (7-10, 4.11) gets the ball for the Blue Jays in game two of Toronto's three-game series against the Mariners, with first pitch set to fly at 1:07 p.m. ET. The 41-year-old knuckleballer had been on a nice roll entering the All-Star break, but he took the loss after allowing five earned runs in six innings his last time out against the A's.