It took more than three months for Seattle Mariners left-hander James Paxton to make his 11th start of the season.
It didn’t last long.
And it’s more than likely too late.
Paxton allowed three runs — two earned — in three innings in his first start since heading to the disabled list May 29. And though five Mariners relievers combined to allow no runs the rest of the way, the early damage was enough for the Colorado Rockies to escape with a 3-2 victory Sunday afternoon at Safeco Field and take two of the three games in the series.
“No excuses,” Paxton said. “I just didn’t have it today. I felt this one was a good one to build off of and get ready for the next one.”
There just aren’t many next ones left.
The Mariners (69-75) dropped to seven games back of the Texas Rangers — who beat the Oakland Athletics, 12-4 — for the second American League wild-card spot with 18 games to play.
Seattle has Rockies left fielder Brandon Barnes to partially blame for that.
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said Barnes’ play in the eighth inning was probably one of the top 10 plays of the year.
Kyle Seager lined a shot toward the left-field corner, but Barnes dived near the foul line and caught it for the out. He then jumped to his feet, threw to a relay man who doubled up Ketel Marte at first base as the Mariners shortstop was trying to get back after rounding second.
“Off the bat, I really didn’t think there was any chance (Barnes) got to it,” Seager said. “I thought it was going to be a double, for sure. With the way Marte runs there, you got to think that ties the game.
“It was one of the best plays I’ve seen this year.”
Said Barnes, “When you get that close to diving head-first into the wall, it’s never fun. But I knew I had a little bit of room, so I went for it.”
Instead of a potential 3-3 game — and a chance for the Mariners to win for the ninth time in 12 games — if the ball had landed on the field, it ended in Barnes’ glove.
And left members of both teams in awe.
“That was unbelievable,” Rockies catcher Dustin Garneau said. “It saved us a run and kept us in front. It’s probably the No. 1 play on ESPN.”
Said Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano, “Man, I watched it on TV and it was even better. Wow, that was a good catch.”
As if Seager’s day wasn’t already rough enough, his throwing error in the fourth inning allowed two runs to score.
Paxton started the inning and was tagged for a ground-rule double by Willin Rosario then walked Justin Morneau. He was replaced by Mayckol Guaipe, ending Paxton’s day at 69 pitches.
His final line: three innings, two hits, three runs (two earned) with three walks and four strikeouts.
In came Guaipe to continue the crazy half-inning. Rockies shortstop Cristhian Adames laid down a bunt that got past a diving Guaipe and was bobbled by first baseman Logan Morrison for a hit.
That loaded the bases for Dustin Garneau, who hit a ground ball to Seager. Seager’s throw to the plate, on the run, sailed wide of catcher Steven Baron, allowing two runs to score.
“I tried to make it a little more than I needed,” Seager said.
Barnes followed with a grounder to Marte, who got Adames in a rundown between third and home for the first out of the inning. Guaipe then intentionally walked Charlie Blackmon to again load the bases before the Mariners escaped when DJ LeMahieu hit a double-play liner to Cano.
All that, and Colorado had pushed its lead to 3-0.
The Mariners cut the deficit to one in the bottom of the inning when Seth Smith’s two-out, bases-loaded single to center scored Marte and Cano.
Cano got up slowly and in pain after sliding into home on the play. He’s been nursing an abdominal strain that forced him to miss three games in July.
Combine that with Brad Miller, who was pulled before the game because of neck spasms (he was set to start in center field but was replaced by James Jones before the first pitch), and Nelson Cruz starting for the fourth consecutive game at designated hitter despite being slowed by a strained right quadriceps muscle, and it’s like Paxton came back just in time.
Paxton, the Mariners’ fourth-round pick in the 2010 amateur draft from the Vancouveer suburb of Ladner, British Columbia, went on the disabled list May 29 after 10 starts with a strained left middle finger.
“I thought the ball came out really well,” McClendon said. “The ball was 93-95 (mph). I know he’s better than that, but for the first time after (10) days off (since a Sept. 2 start for the Tacoma Rainiers), I thought it was pretty good.”
For all the offensive and bullpen woes the Mariners had to start the season, losing Paxton — who earned the No. 2 spot in the starting rotation behind Felix Hernandez out of spring training — and Hisashi Iwakuma to injuries were big blows, too.
“It’s been a long, long season waiting to get back out there,” Paxton said. “And today I was just really happy and excited to get back on the mound. I look forward to doing it some more before the end of the season.”
MONDAY: Los Angeles Angels (RHP Garrett Richards: 13-10, 3.71 ERA) at Seattle (RHP Taijuan Walker: 10-8, 4.70), 7:10 p.m., Root Sports, 710-AM, 1030-AM