Edwin Jackson slowly walked toward the dugout at Nationals Park, glove covering his mouth. Usually mild-mannered, the pitcher’s head jerked as he unloaded the frustration of a game gone awry into the leather.
An hour later, disgust lingered on Jackson’s face in the clubhouse after the New York Mets topped the Washington Nationals 2-0 Saturday night.
Thumping from Third Eye Blind’s postgame concert seeped in. Otherwise, the only noise came from Jackson’s voice sorting through how his best stuff this season, at least according to teammates, became a loss in front of the second-largest crowd, 42,662, in the ballpark’s history.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “what’s good enough is what’s good enough to win.”
Over Jackson’s seven innings where he allowed two hits and walked only one, his hard slider was as much of a constant as death and taxes. Of his season-high 11 strikeouts, eight came on swing-and-miss sliders. The pitch and an effective cutter left the Mets, owners of baseball’s 12th-best on-base percentage, baffled.
“That’s the most dominant I’ve seen him pitch,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.
Jackson’s slider has always been a go-to pitch. It’s been even better this season, even after three August starts when he surrendered 18 hits, nine walks and 10 runs over 16.2 innings.
Entering Saturday’s game, Jackson threw 601 sliders this season, according to FanGraphs.com. Spanning 169 plate appearances, those pitches accounted for 68 strikeouts and a .187 batting average.
Thirty-one of Jackson’s 103 pitches Saturday were sliders. Eleven generated swings and misses, like the sort of pitch you’d dial up in a video game.
But those couldn’t undo six game-changing pitches to start the seventh inning.
Prone to bouts of wildness, Jackson walked David Wright on five pitches, the fifth nearly implanting itself in his face. Then Jackson threw a 93-mile per hour fastball to Ike Davis that hung over the middle of the plate. Scuffling to a .216 average this season, Davis still whacked the pitch into the left-field bullpen.
Jackson retired the next three Mets, including catching Andres Torres looking as a 94-mph fastball whizzed past, like nothing happened. The walk back to the dugout was another story.
“You put us in that situation and more times than not we come through,” Jackson said.
But Mets left-hander Jonathon Niese matched Jackson’s zeros and scattered five hits over 7.1 innings with seven strikeouts and no walks. After back-to-back singles in the first, the Nationals didn’t advance a runner past second base.
Niese and relievers Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco retired the final 12 Nationals, including a difficult running catch by Mike Baxter in the right-field corner in the ninth inning that prevented an extra-base hit by Ryan Zimmerman.
Thousands of blue and orange-clad Mets fans on hand roared.
And that left Jackson and a few teammates in the clubhouse as Third Eye Blind pounded on, thinking about a few pitches that transformed the game.
“One of them,” Adam LaRoche said, “just happened to leave the park.”