The Washington Times - October 11, 2012, 10:08AM

Edwin Jackson knows what usually goes wrong when he’s off his game: He gets behind in the count and digging himself a hole. In Wednesday’s Game 3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Washington Nationals’ most experienced starter figured out all too quickly that it was something else.

“This time, ball was middle of the plate,” Jackson said after the 8-0 drubbing. “Sometimes it just runs like that. I feel like I was coming out being able to feel strikes, so I didn’t feel like I wasn’t in a groove where I couldn’t come out and throw strikes. I was just missing across the middle of the plate.”

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Against a smart, veteran team like the Cardinals, it was bad timing to leave the ball over the plate. Jackson gave up a run in the first and then three more in the second on Pete Kozma’s home run.

“He just made bad pitches. Talked to [catcher Kurt] Suzuki, he wasn’t hitting his spots, and a lot of hits, pitches off him off the plate, and good hitters will jump all over it and that’s what happened early,” manager Davey Johnson said. “I thought he got a little sharper as the game went on, but a couple of really bad pitches, that’s the story.”

The worst pitch came to Kozma. Jackson explained that his fastball was supposed to be away and missed middle-in. It didn’t matter that the 24-year-old shortstop had just two homers in 89 career regular-season at-bats.

“I mean it’s the game of baseball. Anybody 1 through 9 can hit a home run,” Jackson said. “Just a perfect pitch for him with him being aggressive. A perfect pitch for him to turn and burn and he did that.”

The Nats burned slowly Wednesday even as Jackson got his act together as the offense was dormant. At one point he retired five Cardinals hitters in a row.

“Just being able to execute pitches,” Jackson explained. “Keep the ball out of the middle of the plate and catch a corner and mix in some off-speed.”

Washington’s offense not being able to put up any run support hurt, too. Unlike Chris Carpenter, who dazzled the Nats despite not having his best stuff, Jackson never got to pitch with a lead or any kind of margin for error. He went five innings, giving up four earned runs on eight hits with four strikeouts and a walk.

Jackson said he and his teammates were not pressing given that this was the first playoff game at home. He also insisted extra rest didn’t bother him.

“I didn’t feel like I was out of rhythm; I didn’t feel like I couldn’t throw strikes,” he said. “I just missed across the plate, threw a couple of balls that cost me.”

Those balls over the plate were part of why Jackson was saddled with the loss in what could have been his final start for the Nats. He’s a free agent at year’s end, which could come as soon as Thursday.

“It happens. It could be, could not be. It definitely is not the way you want to end it,” Jackson said. “Hopefully we’ll come out and [be] able to get a game [Thursday] and get the last game with Gio [Gonzalez] going. But we’ll have to take it one game at a time. Definitely you hope the season doesn’t end like that.”