ST. LOUIS -- Friday's start couldn't have gone much worse for Edwin Jackson, and the final score of the Nationals' 12-2 loss to the Cardinals tells the story of their forgettable night at Busch Stadium.
But after the two big innings at Jackson's expense, a few wholesale lineup changes and the biggest offensive output against Washington all season, the Nationals are still potentially one day away from clinching the National League East. The Mets beat the Braves, 3-1, at Turner Field to lower the Nationals' magic number to two. With a win over the Cardinals and another Braves loss Saturday, Washington can claim its first NL East crown.
That would certainly be a welcome development for the Nationals after Friday's disastrous game, their most lopsided loss of the season. The buzzwords in the clubhouse afterward were "throw it out," whether it was the brutal final score or thoughts about how this outing could affect Jackson's spot in the playoff rotation.
"I don't even want to talk about it," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said, smiling. "It wasn't happening tonight. Tomorrow's another day. We got a little help from our friends. That was nice."
"That was a beating, there. But we're obviously watching the scoreboard," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "The Braves finally lost a game this month, so I guess we can take that as a positive."
Jackson faced 15 batters but recorded only four outs -- two of those resulted in runs, and the other two were on pitcher Adam Wainwright's first-inning double-play groundout. Jackson didn't get much help from his defense, but he wound up allowing nine runs -- eight earned -- on six hits and four walks, throwing only 25 of 56 pitches for strikes.
Jackson called his outing disappointing and embarrassing, said it "felt just like it looked" and lamented the fact that he couldn't help his team end this pennant race a little sooner. His teammates, meanwhile, were trying to look on the bright side.
"You know it's getting down to the wire. We know that," said LaRoche, who provided Jackson some early run support with his 99th RBI of the season. "We obviously like our chances, but nothing's done until it's sealed up. So, you're getting beat by 10 runs, you try to look at the positives in it. Forget about this one."
Jackson was in trouble from the start against St. Louis, the club he pitched for in last year's World Series, allowing the first six batters he faced to get on base. A fielding error by Ryan Zimmerman didn't do him any favors, and not all of the Cardinals' hits were well struck. But by that time, St. Louis already had a 3-1 lead, and it would run up to 5-1 before the inning finally came to an end.
"You look at that first inning, I think they hit one ball good. Yeah, they got some base hits, but it was just a weird first inning," LaRoche said. "Everything lined up right for them tonight. When you throw four, five runs up that quick, that's what I told Edwin: Just chalk this one up to bad luck. Forget about it. We need you in five days."
Jackson agreed that he needed to put it behind him, but he wasn't having any talk of bad luck. He fell behind too often, barely missed any bats and "did absolutely nothing to give your team a chance to win," he said.
The second inning didn't turn out any better, as Jackson put two runners on with a double and a walk, gave up a run on Matt Holliday's RBI groundout and served up a first-pitch fastball that Yadier Molina crushed into the Nationals' bullpen, where Tom Gorzelanny had already begun warming up. That gave the Cardinals an eight-run lead, and Jackson's second walk to Carlos Beltran brought his night to an end, his shortest start since 2007 and tied for the second shortest of his career.
It all left Jackson speaking afterward of shaking off this start, refusing to let it linger and being ready for his next start, whenever that may be.
"Short-term memory, man. It's not the first game. Just shake it off," Jackson said. "I'm not dead from this game. It just definitely leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. But I'm not going to go jump off a bridge or anything because of the game."
While one bad outing against his former team may not be cause for all that much concern, Jackson hasn't exactly rounded into form as the postseason draws near. He has pitched well at times, like his eight-inning gem against the Brewers a week ago. But in five September starts, Jackson has given up 22 earned runs on 32 hits in 25 innings.
"He's always tough. He's got really good stuff," Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig said. "The first time we faced him, it was different. This time around, we got a better look at him."
Still, it was difficult for the Nationals to feel too down, even after such a disappointing result. They left the field closer to the NL East title than when they ran onto it nearly three hours earlier.
"At the end of the day, we were fortunate enough for [the Braves] to lose," Jackson said. "But we can only worry about what we can control, and that's our games."