Associated Press photo
Davey Johnson congratulates Edwin Jackson at the conclusion of his 2-hitter.
Wait a minute. Jackson had just retired 16 consecutive batters before issuing that walk. And the Nationals held a comfortable, 4-1 lead on the Reds. Why on earth would Johnson say he hadn't been that nervous in years?
"Well, I mean, when I'm seeing a gem, and we need it, and I'm seeing lights-out [stuff], it makes me nervous," the manager said. "I don't usually get nervous, but when you see something like that ... from a manager's standpoint, it's kind of like: You don't want anything to go wrong."
So Johnson sent Steve McCatty to the mound and instructed his pitching coach to check on Jackson. The goal: Find out whether the right-hander really had it in him to go the distance.
The ensuing conversation, as retold by McCatty...
McCatty: "How are you doing?"
Jackson: "I'm fine."
McCatty: "Well, do you want this?"
McCatty: "Well, if you want it, tell me you want it."
Jackson: "I want it."
Not that McCatty or Johnson really needed confirmation from the 28-year-old hurler. They could see what everyone among the crowd of 35,489 at Nationals Park could see: Jackson was pitching perhaps the game of his life, and he wasn't going to let anyone else finish it for him.
Yes, this is a guy who has a major-league no-hitter on his resume. That 2010 outing for the Diamondbacks, though, was something of a fluke when you consider he walked eight batters and plunked another despite never surrendering a base hit. He also needed a staggering 149 pitches to complete his nine innings.
This performance was far more efficient, and Jackson was far more dominating in shutting down the Reds over the course of 2 hours and 33 minutes. He allowed just two hits (both in the top of the second), issued only that one walk in the top of the eighth, struck out nine and recorded out No. 27 on only his 92nd pitch of the afternoon.
"I mean, I have a couple complete games, but they might be 110, 115 [pitches]," he said. "To be under 100 and go a complete game, it definitely feels good."
On the five previous occasions in which he went nine full innings, Jackson threw anywhere from 101 to 149 pitches. Thus, he obliterated that previous low with his efficient performance today.
And in doing so, he authored the latest in a growing string of fabulous pitching performances for what -- statistically speaking -- has been baseball's best rotation so far in 2012. Through nine games, Nationals starters have combined to post a 1.75 ERA with a microscopic 0.81 WHIP and 54 strikeouts in 56 2/3 innings.
They've been even better during this most recent turn through the rotation. Over the last five games, Nationals starters have allowed two total runs in 34 innings.
Pitchers often joke about the friendly competition between teammates, as each starter tries to outdo the other. But there's some real truth to the notion.
"Oh, for sure," Jackson said. "I mean, no one wants to be the weakest link."
Guess that means the onus is now on Ross Detwiler when he takes the mound for tomorrow's series finale, needing to put forth yet another quality start to keep this run going, send the Nationals to their sixth straight win and maintain their position atop the NL East.
"That's pressure, man," the young left-hander said with a smile. "Gotta keep it going. Why stop now?"