Danny Jackson is looking to the familiar stage of the postseason to reclaim his stature as a dominating pitcher.
Jackson was scheduled to start the third National League playoff game today for the Cincinnati Reds in Pittsburgh. It'll easily be his most important start in a season undermined by injury.Jackson has shown only brief glimpses of the pitcher who arrived as one of baseball's best in 1985, when he helped Kansas City win the World Series.
The left-hander won a 2-0 shutout to avoid elimination in the fifth game of the American League playoffs against Toronto that year and threw a five-hitter against St. Louis to avoid elimination in the fifth game of the World Series.
Those two games brought him respect.
"I guess everyone feels now that I can be a big-game pitcher, just from those two things," Jackson said. "But there's more to being a big-game pitcher than the playoffs and the World Series. You've got to do it during the season, too. I've been able to do it in the season."
Not this year. Or last year, either.
He was brilliant when he arrived in Cincinnati in 1988, going 23-8 to finish as the runner-up behind Orel Hershiser for the Cy Young Award. It's been all downhill since.
He fell to 6-11 last year, when a sore toe and sore shoulder cut his season in half and required surgery.
He's been on the disabled list three times this year because of arm and shoulder problems. While the Reds led the NL West from wire to wire, Jackson went 6-6 and spent 54 days on the disabled list.
The playoff start gives him a fresh start.
"It doesn't make any difference how your season went," he said. "Pitching well in the playoffs or World Series is always satisfying, no matter what your circumstances are."
His have been unusual.
Jackson's second start of the season ended after just four pitches. Montreal's Junior Noboa lined a ball off his forearm, sending him to the DL until May 20.
He made 11 starts and seemed to be getting back into form when his shoulder stiffened before a start on July 17. Doctors feared he tore the rotator cuff and could be done for the season, but it turned out that Jackson only ripped scar tissue left over from the previous year's surgery.
He returned Aug. 8, went back into the rotation, then caught a virus that made him stiffen up again before an Aug. 13 start.
Back on the disabled list.
He's made eight starts, with mixed results, since returning Aug. 30.
Although manager Lou Piniella feared Jackson could be lost for the season when the shoulder problems developed, Jackson never thought his season would end prematurely for the second straight year.
"I know my body and I knew what was wrong with me," he said. "I didn't care what anybody else said. I knew exactly what was wrong and what was going on."
Jackson pitched effectively in his last two starts, including an eight-inning performance against San Diego in which he allowed just three hits. The apparent recovery and Jackson's experience worked in his favor when Piniella chose his playoff rotation.
"Experience plays a big part in everything you do in this game," Piniella said. "He's been through it. It's a big advantage. But you still have to pitch well."
Jackson expects that every time out. His competitiveness led teammates to nickname him "Jason," a reference to one of the horror-movie villains who coldly dispatches his opponents.
"I'm trying to throw a no-hit shutout from the get-go," he said. "I expect myself to perform at a level better than average. I'm not happy with just average, and sometimes I'm not happy with good."
He would be happy with a repeat of 1985.
"I'll never forget '85. You never forget a World Series. You never forget a playoff. You never forget a ring," he said.