SEATTLE - James Paxton woke up Saturday morning to a text from his father saying that grandfather Lawrie Paxton had passed away suddenly.
Inspired by his grandfather's memory, the 24-year-old Seattle Mariners pitcher made his Major League debut memorable, threw six quality innings en route to his first career win, while teammate Kendrys Morales had three hits and two RBIs, as the Mariners beat Tampa Bay 6-2.
The ice-cold Rays (77-64) have now lost 11 of their last 14 games while falling from a first-place tie in the AL East to a slim one-game lead in the wild-card race. Baltimore and Cleveland each moved within a game of Tampa Bay and Texas in the race for two wild-card spots, while the Yankees (2 ½ games back) and Kansas City (3 ½) are also lurking.
"We'll continue to fight through it, and all of a sudden you'll come out on the other side," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "It's truly that simple - and difficult -- at the same time. Effort's good, preparation's good, everything's good; we're just unable to get the hit when you need to."
Paxton (1-0) pitched five scoreless innings while Morales led the way to a 4-0 lead before an error and a two-run homer from Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria in the sixth ended the rookie's shutout bid. The left-hander ended up allowing only four hits and one earned run and said his grandfather was on his mind for much of the night.
"In baseball, you learn to compartmentalize," he said. "Obviously, I was thinking about him before the game, and I knew he was up there watching. It was really special to get this one for him."
Morales had an RBI single in the first inning and added a solo homer in the third on the way to a 4-0 Seattle lead before Tampa Bay got to Paxton. Longoria hit a two-run shot in the top of the sixth to cut the deficit in half, but that was as close as the Rays would get.
RBI doubles by Seattle's Michael Saunders and Nick Franklin in the bottom of the inning put the Mariners ahead 6-2.
Paxton was one of the Mariners' post-Sept. 1 callups, and he was considered one of the top three young starters in the Mariners' pitching-rich farm system. In his first Major League game, he did not disappoint.
"He seemed fairly calm," catcher Mike Zunino said of Paxton's demeanor heading into the game. "He's been working very hard, he got the opportunity and he wanted to run with it. He seemed prepared, and I think he made the most of his opportunity."
Morales, who played in three consecutive postseasons with the Angels from 2007 through 2009, went 3 for 4 with a pair of RBIs in the win. He leads the Mariners in RBIs (74) and now has 18 home runs on the season.
Two solo home runs off Tampa Bay starter Chris Archer helped the Mariners take a 3-0 lead over the first three innings, then Seattle added one more run off reliever Alex Torres for a 4-0 lead in the fifth.
Paxton retired the first five batters he faced and allowed just two hits and a walk over the first five innings. Along the way, Paxton induced 10 of the 18 batters he faced to ground out.
"That young kid's good," Maddon said. "Don't be deceived by that: he was good. He threw the ball really well."
An error on the Mariners' first at-bat led to the opening run of the game, as leadoff hitter Brad Miller came around to score on a Morales two-out single for a 1-0 Seattle lead in the bottom of the first.
The Mariners made it 2-0 when Justin Smoak, the hero from Friday night's win, led off the second inning with a solo homer. Morales then added a solo home run of his own in the third, giving Seattle a 3-0 lead on a 378-foot shot over the right-field fence.
The two home runs allowed by Archer matched a season high. They accounted for the only earned runs scored on Archer on Saturday, when the 24-year-old right-hander allowed just four hits over four innings of work.
Archer pitched a 1-2-3 fourth inning but was replaced by Torres to open the fifth inning. Seattle opened up a 4-0 lead on an Abraham Almonte sacrifice bunt that Torres failed to corral as Nick Franklin came in to score from third base.
"Archie was OK tonight," Maddon said of Archer. "I really thought three runs was enough, and I thought Torres and Jamie (Wright) could keep it at three and we'd manager to get back in the game."
NOTES: The Mariners recalled LHP Bobby LaFromboise before Saturday's game. LaFromboise, who was 6-0 with a 3.39 ERA at Triple-A Tacoma, has already had two stints with Seattle this season. ... Rays OF Sean Rodriguez was in Saturday's lineup, despite making a base-running error as a pinch runner in the eighth inning of a 6-4 loss the previous night. Rodriguez got caught leaning off second base in that game, costing what could have been the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth. ... Tampa Bay RHP Jesse Crain threw 25 pitches off the mound before Saturday's game, marking a step in the right direction as he tries to come back from a shoulder strain. Acquired from the White Sox last month, Crain told MLB.com after the session that he hopes to return to action in "a couple weeks." ... Entering Saturday night's game, Tampa Bay had grounded into at least one double play in 15 of its past 17 games. ... The Rays close out the season with 37 games in 38 days, with this Monday marking the lone day off.