A veteran of 10 major-league seasons, Edwin Jackson has helped lead a young Nationals pitching staff all year. He's helped show them what it takes to pitch every fifth day, how to slow down when an inning gets out of hand and how to prepare day after day throughout a 162-game season.
But on Wednesday Jackson will face his toughest test yet: Put the Nationals in position to win a pivotal Game 3 after two games where their starting pitching all of a sudden wasn't sharp. A strong start from Jackson could set the tone and sway the momentum of the series back in Washington's direction. It's a place he has been before and hopes to draw from the experience.
"The thing about postseason baseball is, the game can speed up real quick," he said. "You have to kind of control the pace and control the tempo. And having experience in that, it definitely helps when you get in those situations, being able to slow the game down and kind of take the crowd out of the equation and just think about concentrating on what you have to do."
Jackson has pitched in seven postseason games in his career, including twice in the World Series. Wednesday might not be an elimination game, but Jackson understands what is at stake for the young Nationals. Most of his teammates have never been in the playoffs, much less had to battle from behind in a series.
"It's high expectations on me.I have high expectations on myself, as well," he said. "This is one of those games where you go out and you try to lead by example."
Jackson has pitched in the playoffs before, but the results of his postseason outings do not suggest any guarantees. The right-hander, in fact, has a history of giving up runs early and has produced an overall mixed bag when the stakes are high.
Jackson started four games last postseason for the Cardinals, the team he will face on Wednesday. He earned the win in his first, Game 4 of the NLDS against Philadelphia, with six innings of two-run ball. But the two runs were actually allowed before he recorded a single out in the first.
Jackson pitched two games of the 2011 NLCS. In Game 2 against the Milwaukee Brewers, he allowed seven hits and a two-run homer to Rickie Weeks in a no-decision. The Cardinals ended up winning 12-3.
In Game 6, Jackson made it just two innings after giving up three home runs. The Cardinals had built a lead of four runs before he even took the mound. St. Louis also scored 12 runs that day and won 12-6.
Jackson started Game 4 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers and again was scored on early with a run allowed in the first. Jackson was able to pitch into the bottom of the sixth despite walking seven batters to go with three hits. The Cardinals lost the game, 4-0, thanks to eight innings of shutout ball by Derek Holland.
Jackson's other World Series appearance was with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008. He pitched two innings of relief in Game 4, allowing a home run to pitcher Joe Blanton in what ended as a blowout loss to the Phillies.
Having been through each round before, and last season winning it all, nerves shouldn't be an issue for Jackson. And perhaps having both the ups and downs as a postseason starter will help him get over the hump this time around.
"Every inning you have to treat like it's the ninth inning, and you definitely want to come out and you want to get in a rhythm as early as possible," he said.
The most important factor in Jackson's prior experience may be the effect on his teammates. Catcher Kurt Suzuki says it will help everyone be calm and comfortable.
"I think it will definitely help out knowing that he's done this before. That he's been in these types of situations will definitely give him a little bit of an advantage."
Ryan Zimmerman feels assured that Jackson has pitched in games with the pressure of this one before.
"He has been through a lot and obviously he's pitched a ton in the postseason," Zimmerman said. "For him to have that experience and to go out there in a pivotal game in this series is gonna be great for us."
Jackson may have an inconsistent record in postseason games, but the mere fact he's been there before could make the biggest difference.