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Eagle lands on Mariners' James Paxton before game

MINNEAPOLIS -- The biggest challenge for Seattle left-hander James Paxton at Minnesota's home opener came even before he started pitching on the 38-degree afternoon.

Paxton was standing alone in left field at Target Field, taking a break from his warm-up throws for the pregame ceremony Thursday. That's when a bald eagle brought in for a flight over the playing field before the national anthem apparently became confused.

Rather than soaring to the mound to reach his summoning handlers, the bird flew toward Paxton, causing the pitcher to jerk his body backward to avoid being grazed.

"I'm not gonna outrun an eagle, so just thought, we'll see what happens," Paxton said after the game.

Then the eagle, named Challenger, landed in the grass before circling back to find a perch on Paxton's right shoulder. One of the trainers hustled out to lure the bird safely away.

"It was coming right for me and I was like, 'All right, the guy is over there. And I'm not the eagle guy,'" Paxton said. "But I guess this eagle was just confused, apparently the first time ever. I was just standing there trying not to panic."

Paxton, a Canadian, is nicknamed Big Maple and does a local commercial that features the pitcher taking care of a nest of eggs in his hat.

"I guess the eagle knew I was Canadian," Paxton said. "I don't know. But it came for me."

"I kind of ducked it so it wouldn't fly into my face. It was, I think, trying to stand on my back,'' Paxton said. "And then I thought, `OK, if I can stand up slowly, maybe it'll just rest on my shoulder. But as I stood up, he kind of fell off my back a little bit and was kind of clawing to try to get back up on my shoulder. But then as I stood straight up, it fell back onto the ground.''

So he simply resumed warming up.

"The talons, I don't think, punctured me. They were kind of sharp on my back. I don't have any scratches, I don't believe,'' Paxton said. ``That's not the first time I've seen a bald eagle, but it was the first time I've had one try to land on me.''

Both teams had a good time reliving the moment. Mariners manager Scott Servais said he thought fellow starting pitcher Felix Hernandez would have run away.

Twins center fielder Byron Buxton had no trouble admitting that would have been his reaction, too.

"When I saw him like perk up on Paxton's arm, I'm gone,'' Buxton said. "He wouldn't have a chance to get on my shoulder.''

Twins catcher Mitch Garver said the large-talon landing was "terrifying.''

Twins closer Fernando Rodney joked about using one of the imaginary arrows he shoots into the air after converting a save to try to bring down the bird. ``When I saw that, I said, `Wow,''' Rodney said. "That's baseball. A lot of things happen.''

Minnesota fans, meanwhile, might have seen enough of eagles. The Vikings lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC title game in January, then had the Eagles win the Super Bowl in Minneapolis in February.

But the Twins beat the Mariners, 4-2, in the opener. Paxton gave up a two-run homer to Miguel Sano in the sixth but Dan Altavilla got the loss.

Associated Press contributed to this report.