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5 takes: Mariners need James Paxton back soon

Paxton-644
James Paxton's lat strain was the only negative from the Mariners' thrilling home opener. (AP)

By Michael Grey

Five thoughts on the week that was in Seattle sports and beyond:

Grand opening

After finishing an opening American League West road trip 4-2, the Mariners returned to Safeco Field to one big party. The red carpet was there. The fireworks were there. The Silver Slugger Award was there. The Seahawks were there. Even the Lombardi Trophy made it. All that – as manager Lloyd McClendon would put it – "hoopla" made the 3-0 lead the Angels took in the first inning all the more disheartening. Here were 45,000-plus fans in full throat, eager to believe a better season had begun while an old story was being re-told on the diamond. Then it happened. James Paxton shook off a rough start and dialed his stuff in. The Mariners' bats began wearing down Hector Santiago. Finally, Corey Hart hit a ball that would have gone through the center field wall if it hadn't gone over it, and the bullpen took over. When the fireworks smoke had cleared, the Mariners scratched their way back to win a game that they would've lost a year ago. Grand opening, indeed.

Now, the bad news

Paxton was only in second start of the season and has fewer than 10 in his big-league career, but his potential had become ballpark reality before a strained lat saw him leave the game with the Mariners' training staff Tuesday night. The initial diagnosis has Paxton on the 15-day disabled list and Mariners fans can only hope that's all that's needed with a potential jewel in an already strained rotation. Erasmo Ramirez and Roenis Elias have been very good filling spots thus far but they're band-aids and not a long-term strategy at the top of this Mariners rotation. Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma will be back into the rotation sooner than later barring setbacks, but the return of two stars while losing another is still rough news when the guy the M's lose is a gem like Paxton. The difference between a better season and a special season could well lie on its arms, and Paxton needs to be in the mix for that to happen. Get well soon, James.

A new twist to an old rivalry

The Sounders FC rekindled the most intense rivalry in MLS with their trip down to Portland to face Timbers FC last Saturday. The Sounders took the early lead but promptly surrendered it and late in the match looked as though they were about to provide Portland with its first victory of the season. Then Clint Dempsey happened. Dempsey scored his first hat trick as a Sounder with a 2-2 tying goal at 24' and then the two key scores at 85' and 87' to give the Sounders their first result in a regular-season match in which they were down two goals. If you've downloaded the "SoundersCast" on 710Sports.com, you've heard Ross Fletcher emphasize what an elite player can mean to a MLS club, and that was never clearer than it was in Providence Park a week ago. On to FC Dallas.

It's quiet ... too quiet

The NFL has trained us all to believe that the NFL comes first. It doesn't matter what the calendar says or how many days remain between today and the next actual game – it is always football season. That makes this particular time (and this particular year) the most excruciating of all for those fans that have sworn the deepest allegiance to The Shield. Fact is, there just isn't that much going on in the NFL right now and even the next "major" event doesn't involve a single player that has actually played in a game. With that said, I would encourage any sports fan to get out and partake in something where you can find actual competition. I love football more than most, but there's nothing like actual games with actual players and I'll take it over a Top 10 List or mock draft any day. The Mariners, the Sounders, the NHL and NBA playoffs, the PGA, NASCAR. Contrary to what commissioner Roger Goodell would have you believe, there are other games and leagues to support. None of them will replace football, but any one of them is better than watching the offseason business cycle of the National Football League – at least for me.

The year was 1990

I turned 15 that year, got my learner's permit and set to making both my parents incredibly nervous riding shotgun while I drove a car. The first George Bush was president. Gas was $1.16 a gallon. It was also the last time that the NHL Playoffs did not include the Detroit Red Wings. A franchise that is the gold standard for sustained excellence secured its 23rd straight playoff birth this week in an overtime game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It is the longest such streak in the Big Four professional sports leagues here in the Unites States and almost incomprehensible considering all that has changed in the two-plus decades that have passed since the Wings' last postseason absence. Also worth noting: the nervousness from most anyone riding shotgun in a vehicle I'm driving. I'm guessing the Wings' streak will end before mine does.

Thanks for reading, enjoy your weekend, and if you feel the need to know more stuff that I think about, please follow me on Twitter @TheMichaelGrey.

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