James Paxton had an interesting first season as a Yankee. It started off on the right foot with a dominant April start against the Red Sox in which he struck out twelve in eight scoreless innings. Then he ran into a rough patch, getting knocked around by the Mets, Red Sox, and Blue Jays in June and July. However, the guy was money in August and September, winning nine consecutive starts. Paxton was so good, in fact, that he was tapped as the Yanks’ Game 1 starter against Minnesota in the ALDS.
Paxton’s first career playoff start left a lot to be desired, giving up three in 4.2 innings. His next start in ALCS Game 2 at Houston was extremely disappointing, failing to make it out of the third inning. The next time he took the ball in Game 5, Paxton was a completely different pitcher. After allowing a run in a rocky first inning, Paxton settled down and threw five scoreless innings. His final line was one earned run in six innings with nine strikeouts.
The circumstances were unlike any that Paxton had ever faced in his career. After a convincing Game 1 win, the Yankees had dropped the next three games of the series to the Astros, including an embarrassing loss in Game 4 at home. With their backs against the wall, Paxton took the ball and absolutely shoved. I was in the crowd that night, and it legitimately felt like I was going into a funeral. There was no buzz, no energy. Everyone just seemed down. Paxton’s wild first inning didn’t help. Luckily, home runs in the bottom of the first from DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Hicks electrified the crowd. Hicks’ three-run shot off of Justin Verlander is probably the loudest I have ever heard the Stadium.
That was all Paxton would need. He took the three-run lead and pitched like a man possessed. The absolute best part of the start, however, was the sequence that can be seen at the 1:25 mark of this clip. With two outs in the fifth and Paxton at 111 pitches, Aaron Boone went to the mound and asked him if he wanted to stay in the game. His response? “Let’s go. Let’s fucking go.” That shit was so cool. Season on the line and you have a guy pitching his dick off, asking for one more batter. Just such a badass moment. Thank GOD Chirinos’ fly ball died at the track, otherwise it would have been significantly less cool.
Paxton will be a free agent at season’s end, and the Yanks will have some pretty tough decisions to make with him, LeMahieu, and Masahiro Tanaka all in the final year of their contracts. All I know is, Paxton’s last start was so awesome and it gets slept on since the Yanks were eliminated the next night in Houston. He showed a ton of heart that night, and I think he even won over a lot of Yankee fans who still might have been skeptical.
Also crazy to think that this was the last game played at Yankee Stadium, nearly seven months ago. Whenever they open that place up again, it’s gonna give an entirely new meaning to the term “Bronx Zoo.”