Judging by the standing ovation, Edwin Jackson could have pitched a two-hit, shutout gem for the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.
What he did was be more than good enough in 5⅔ innings, scattering seven hits and four earned runs to help the Nationals dispose of the Chicago Cubs 11-5 on a night in which the offense exploded.
"It was all right," Jackson said of his performance. "The most important thing was we come and win."
Jackson picked up the win, his ninth of the season, helping to push the Nationals to a magic number of 20 to clinch the National League East. But this wasn't the 28-year-old at his sharpest.
Jackson cruised into the sixth inning, riding a streak of five straight strikeouts and thriving thanks to the Nationals' strong run support against a bevy of unproven Cubs pitchers. Allowing just one run through five, he was efficient if not dominant
"It wasn't one of Jackson's stronger games," manager Davey Johnson said. "But he was coming off two great outings, and I was going to cut him short, he caught me a little bit by surprise all of a sudden getting two quick outs in the sixth and just kind of lost it."
Jackson got the chance to pitch with a substantial lead and didn't take that for granted.
"There's definitely nobody in the clubhouse that's going to complain about run support," he said. "Once again we came out tonight and we did a great job offensively, we did a great job defensively as well. It just shows you what this team is capable of doing."
When Jackson got in trouble with two outs in the sixth, he gave up a single, a walk, a triple and an infield single. Johnson lamented not having rookie Christian Garcia ready to go earlier (before an 8-1 score became 8-4), but it didn't matter. Garcia made his major league debut and got out of the inning.
Still, it was another lesson for Jackson.
"I just have to do a better job late innings with two outs being more aggressive like I was earlier in the game," he said. "I can't allow myself to get away from that aggressiveness and for them to put up big runs like that."
It's certainly realistic for complacency to set in with that big of a lead, considering also that the Nationals went into Tuesday with a 6½-game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.
But Jackson knows the way he pitches can't change with a lead or with two outs.
"You have to keep coming at people. When you change your approach, things happen like they did with two outs in the sixth inning: You allow a good team that can still swing it come back in a game and put up runs in a game, late-inning runs," he said. "Fortunate enough we had a big lead, but games like this you definitely like to pitch further in the game."
The Nationals used four relievers in total to wrap up the victory. And even if Jackson didn't have his best stuff, that was something of an afterthought.
"But great win; offense was fun watching," Johnson said. "I think everybody got a hit, so good game."
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