ST. LOUIS (AP) - Edwin Jackson faced 15 hitters and recorded four outs. The right-hander is still safe and sound in the Washington Nationals' rotation heading into the postseason.
They took another step forward, too, even with a blowout loss.
``It wasn't happening tonight,' manager Davey Johnson said after a 12-2 setback to the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night in a matchup of teams on the cusp of clinching. ``But we got a little help from our friends, so that's nice.'
Roger Bernadina homered and Bryce Harper had his fourth consecutive multi-hit effort for Washington, which had its magic number for wrapping up the NL East reduced to two when Atlanta lost to the Mets. The Nationals, who secured the first postseason berth for Washington, D.C., since 1933 a week earlier, lead the Braves by four games with five to play and could wrap up the division title Saturday night.
Johnson conceded Friday before the bottom of the fifth when he took out four regulars, including 1-2-3 hitters Jayson Werth, Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. He pulled two more starters in the middle of the sixth, and in the bottom of the seventh only No. 7 hitter Danny Espinosa remained in the lineup, although not at his original position after moving from second base to shortstop earlier.
``I don't think they really needed it, but we'll call that a rest day,' Johnson said.
A month ago, Jackson allowed an unearned run in eight innings in a victory at home over the Cardinals. He's often had trouble in the first inning, allowing 25 runs in 30 starts.
``If he usually has trouble it's early, and he just couldn't right the ship,' Johnson said. ``In the playoffs they're going to try and jump all over him.
``It just gets him more fired up.'
Allen Craig matched his career best with four hits to go with two RBIs and Yadier Molina hit a two-run home run for the Cardinals.
``The first time we faced him was the first time a lot of us had faced him,' Craig said of Jackson. ``Last year he was on our team. This time around, we got a better look at him and put some good swings on the ball.'
Jackson (9-11) left trailing 9-1 after just 1 1-3 innings, his shortest outing of the season, in his first start in St. Louis since leaving as a free agent. Jackson was 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA down the stretch last fall, helping the Cardinals earn the wild card on the final day of the season, and was the winning pitcher in Game 4 of the NL division series over Philadelphia.
``Today's game was just very disappointing and embarrassing,' Jackson said. ``Your club is in a pennant race and you have a game like that, it definitely leaves a bitter taste in your mouth that you did absolutely nothing to give your team a chance to win.'
Jackson said the homecoming had nothing to do with his struggles, ``no pressure, no added emotions or anything like that.' He said there'll be no carry over to the next start, either.
``We can't afford to have anything linger,' Jackson said. ``You take away what you could have done differently and continue to move on.'
Adam Wainwright (14-13) halted a string of four so-so starts with six solid innings for the Cardinals, whose magic number is three for securing the second NL wild card. The defending World Series champions have won nine of 11 overall, and 11 of their last 12 at home against Washington since 2008.
The Nationals and Cincinnati Reds, who got a no-hitter from Homer Bailey in a 1-0 victory over the Pirates, are tied for the league's best record at 95-62. The team with the best overall record will open the NL division series on the road against the winner of a one-game playoff between the wild-card teams.
The Cardinals topped six runs for the first time since beating the Nationals 10-9 on Sept. 1, on the road.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny took out Molina and Carlos Beltran after seven innings. A third starter, Matt Holliday, was removed after getting hit by a pitch on the left elbow by Christian Garcia in the sixth. The team said Holliday had a contusion and was day to day.
Adam LaRoche drove in his 99th run in the first, but that cushion didn't last long for Washington.
The first five Cardinals scored and the first seven reached safely with the help of a late throw on a forceout attempt by shortstop Ian Desmond and a fielding error by third baseman Zimmerman, trying for a force at the plate on Molina's slow roller with the bases loaded.
Craig's RBI single and Daniel Descalso's sacrifice fly with the bases loaded, the first out of the inning, were the only hard-hit balls in a five-run first. In 30 starts, Jackson has allowed 25 runs, 36 hits and 18 walks in the first inning.
Jon Jay doubled to open the four-run second. Craig got another RBI single ahead of Molina's 22nd homer into the visitor's bullpen in left and Jackson was yanked after walking Beltran for the second time.
Jackson matched his season worst with eight earned runs allowed, failed to strike out anyone for the first time this year, and threw two wild pitches after entering the year with one.
NOTES: Jackson's shortest-ever outing is just one-third of an inning in a 9-1 loss to the Padres on June 13, 2007 when he was with Tampa Bay. ... The Cardinals honored the staff of their Springfield, Mo., affiliate, the Texas League champions, in a pregame ceremony. ... Jordan Zimmermann (12-8, 2.90) faces the Cardinals' Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.77) in the second game of a three-game series.
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