Edwin Jackson's brutal outing last night in Busch Stadium, which saw him allow six hits and nine runs, eight earned, in just 1.1 IP, put the Washington Nationals in a hole they couldn't climb out of in the series-opener with the St. Louis Cardinals, but it was one pitch in Atlanta, a full-count fastball from Atlanta Braves' starter Tim Hudson to New York Mets' outfielder Lucas Duda, that had the biggest influence on the Nats' hopes of clinching their first division crown.
The Braves' right-handed starter, who'd thrown six scoreless, gave up a leadoff double by Mets' infielder Daniel Murphy in the top of the seventh inning. Hudson walked Ike Davis intentionally to get to Scott Hairston, who struck out, and Duda, whose three-run home run was the difference in NY's 3-1 win on the road in Turner Field. Atlanta's loss ended a five-game Braves' winning streak in a month of September which has seen them go 17-9 as they attempt to catch the NL East's first-place Nats. Even though the Nats got knocked around in St. Louis, their magic number dropped to two thanks to the Mets' efforts.
"We got a little help from our friends," Davey Johnson told reporters after the Nationals' loss. "That was surprising," the Nats' skipper said, "I was surprised over it." Nats' first baseman Adam LaRoche agreed, joking after the game that he too was surprised the Braves actually lost. "We're obviously watching the scoreboard," LaRoche told reporters in the visitor's clubhouse in Busch Stadium, "And the Braves finally lost a game this month, so I guess we can take that as a positive." While Atlanta's won 17 of 26 in September, the Nationals have gone 15-12.
LaRoche's advice for Jackson as the pitcher left the mound, was to simply forget the start, which he described accurately as a beating. Davey Johnson told reporters he wouldn't let Jackson's issues on the mound last night alter his plans for the rotation as the postseason approaches. "I just throw it out," Johnson said, "If he usually has trouble it's early. And he couldn't right the ship and the [Cardinals] are in playoff mode. They're going to jump all over [him]." Jackson threw 56 pitches in just 1.1 IP, walking four batters before he was finally lifted.
"Getting behind, walking people just gets them more fired up," the Nats' manager explained, and there was no hint that Jackson was going to turn things around as he has after starting slowly in the past. "It wasn't happening tonight," Johnson said, "But tomorrow's another day."
"I was hoping he'd get it right and eat up some innings," Johnson said, "It just wasn't meant to be." From what the Nats' manager told reporters, he and Adam LaRoche agreed on the best way to deal with such a loss. Just forget it happened. "I don't even want to talk about," Johnson joked.
In spite of the loss, the Nationals are in a position to clinch the division title tonight if they can beat St. Louis and get some more help from their "friends." Jordan Zimmermann, who starts for the Nats against the Cards' Kyle Lohse, took a beating similar to the one Jackson received last night in his own last start against St. Louis, giving up eight hits and eight runs, all earned, in just 3.2 IP in his shortest start of the season on September 1st in D.C. Since then, however, he's bounced back to win three of his last four outings, walking eight, striking out 26 and posting a 2.19 ERA over 24.2 IP in wins over the Cubs, Mets, Dodgers and Brewers.
A win tonight and a Braves' loss and the Nationals are NL East champs.