When the St. Louis Cardinals rolled into town Thursday they brought with them a reputation for offensive firepower. The only team in the National League the Washington Nationals had yet to face were supposed to bring a stiff test at the start of their longest homestand of the season.
Maybe it was because their offense, suddenly sizzling again, got on the board first, powered by home runs from Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth. Or maybe it was because they never let up. Whether it was against starter Jaime Garcia or the parade of relievers who followed him, the Nationals' went quietly in only one inning of their 8-1 victory.
In truth it was something much more familiar — to both sides. It was Edwin Jackson, the man who shared champagne showers with many of these same Cardinals less than a year ago during their magical run to the World Series title.
And it was the eight innings he twirled that were as good as scoreless.
He struck out 10 Cardinals batters and put on a show that reinforced the essential point the Nationals have been making about their season since it began. That their arms are still driving this bus.
"Obviously, they've got the best offense in the league," said Nationals manager Davey Johnson who called the entire game a "gem." "But they're going to have to hit against a pretty good pitching staff."
"People keep talking about (Stephen Strasburg)," Werth said, referring to the Nationals' plan to shut their ace down after two or three more starts. "You know, Edwin Jackson is a heck of a pitcher. ... He's a big-game pitcher. Take Stras out and put Edwin in. I like it."
Jackson was brilliant almost from the first pitch on Thursday. He struck out five of the first six batters he faced and got seven of the first nine outs via the strikeout. And he got them in all different ways. Two were looking, four were swinging. Three more came on balls swung at in the dirt that catcher Jesus Flores handled and threw to first for the out and one came on a foul tip that Flores caught for strike three.
"He was amazing," Flores said, noticing that the Cardinals hitters were geared up for Jackson's fastball and hard cutter when he was baffling them with the slider.
"We know the St. Louis Cardinals have good hitters, but tonight he was on it. ... He had a lot of confidence it what he was doing out there. We really talked about every hitter before the game. And he executed everything he said."
When Johnson looked for Jackson, who was due up sixth in the bottom of the seventh, as the Nationals prepared to hit that inning and turn their 4-0 lead into a six-run margin, he found his right-hander already equipped with his shin guard, helmet and batting gloves on.
"It was very obvious what he wanted to do," Johnson said. "He wanted to throw a shutout and a complete game."
He came one inning shy of both, allowing an unearned run in the top of the eighth on a throwing error by Ryan Zimmerman, and he relinquished control of the game ball after that inning having thrown 123 pitches.
He shrugged off the suggestion that his 16 starts with the Cardinals in 2011 gave him any inside knowledge, instead crediting the Nationals' offense with allowing him to attack with a lead from the very beginning.
"Just like I know them, they know me," Jackson said. "I don't see nobody having an advantage at that point. ... It's a lot of fun to come and pitch against friends. They're trying to hit me, though, and I'm still trying to get them out."
Werth led off the game with a walk and Harper, coming off the first multi-homer game of his career, crushed his third home run in his last five at-bats (and 15th on the season) into the Nationals' bullpen in right field.
It was a two-run lead they'd never relinquish, only pad. Werth homered in the fifth, his first since breaking his left wrist on May 6, and, along with Flores and Adam LaRoche, the four combined to drive in all eight of the Nationals' runs.
"(Jackson's) one of our best guys," Harper said. "And he's got that mentality to go out there and win every single game. He's a fiery competitor so having him really show his stuff tonight really helped us out."
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