Even if the Nationals suffered their largest margin of defeat this year, the Atlanta Braves’ loss to the New York Mets reduced the Nationals’ magic number to two. With a win Saturday night and a Braves loss, the Nationals would clinch the National League East.
“This is what it’s all about,” Manager Davey Johnson said before the game. “It’s a whole new, different feeling when you’re playing for a pennant or in the postseason. Every game, every pitch means something. Experience does help, but going through it helps, too.”
Against the team with which he won the 2011 World Series, Jackson never gave the Nationals a chance. The Cardinals scored five runs off him in the first and then four more before he could record the second out of the second inning. He allowed nine runs, eight earned, on seven hits and four walks. He fell behind eight of the 15 batters he faced. Of his 202 prior starts, one had been shorter. In 56 pitches, he delivered more wild pitches (two) than balls the Cardinals swung at and missed (one).
“It’s very disappointing and embarrassing,” Jackson said. “Your club is in a pennant race, and you have a game like that. It definitely leaves a bitter taste in your mouth that you did absolutely nothing to give your team a chance to win.”
The Nationals could open the playoffs against the Cardinals, and if they do, Friday night may serve as an argument for them to slot left-hander Ross Detwiler ahead of Jackson in the playoff rotation. In his first start this year against the Cardinals, on Aug. 30, Jackson allowed no earned runs in eight dominant innings. Last night, they splattered him. Still, Johnson said the outing would not affect his judgment of Jackson’s place.
“I just throw it out,” Johnson said.
Jackson took the mound with a one-run lead, given to him when Adam LaRoche scored Bryce Harper with a two-out single for his 99th RBI. Before Jackson could record his first out, the Nationals trailed, 3-1.
The meltdown could not have been predicted. In his last start, Jackson went eight innings and allowed just one run against the Brewers. Johnson gave him six days of rest as he re-jiggered his rotation so three left-handers would face the Phillies.
But Jackson’s blowup was instant and complete. He issued two walks in the first inning, including one to Carlos Beltran with the bases loaded. He ended the inning with a double play ball from Adam Wainwright, but it offered only momentary reprieve. Jon Jay led off the second with a double to left-center field gap. Yadier Molina delivered the final blow, a two-run homer to left.