“Those games will happen every now and then,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said.
But there’s no mistaking the Nationals’ position: They still carry baseball’s best record. They maintained a four-game lead in the National League East, as the Atlanta Braves lost at home to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Nationals could reflect on a wasted opportunity but move on to the next challenge just as quickly.
Even though they fell on Saturday, they stand 28 games over .500, an achievement last accomplished by a Washington baseball team in 1933. They could nab the series from the Mets on Sunday, and move on to face the Braves on Monday. It’s mid-August, and there’s much more to come.
“Every night you get a chance to add [to the division lead] . . . or to lose ground,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “We’re not going to win out the rest of the games. This’ll happen again. It’s part of it.”
Also part of a pennant race is a re-energized fan base that can fill Nationals Park with 42,662 people on a late-summer night as it did Saturday — the second-largest crowd in the stadium’s four-year history. They were treated to a pitchers’ duel.
Every Nationals starter has a distinguishing pitch in his superb arsenal. Gio Gonzalez has a freezing curveball and Jordan Zimmermann has a biting slider, to name a few. Jackson has a dipping, disappearing slider.
On Saturday, that slider, which sat between 84 and 86 mph, was a dangerous complement to his tailing and sinking fastball, which ran between 92 and 94 mph. “I was able to come out and throw that a lot,” Jackson said.
Take this sixth inning at-bat against Mets leadoff hitter Ruben Tejada: On the first pitch Jackson threw an 85-mph slider, which Tejada let fly by, sizing it up. Jackson offered another slider: a swing and a miss. Tejada then fouled off two 93-mph fastballs and faced an 0-2 count. Jackson unfurled another slider. It started near the lower half of the plate and when Tejada swung at it, the ball vanished, dropping straight down like a free-falling anvil.
The most telling post-strikeout reaction of the night belonged to Mets first baseman Ike Davis, who, after striking out in the fourth inning on a slider, stared back in disbelief as he trudged off to his dugout uttering a not-so-cheery word to himself.