Nationals 8, Cardinals 1

Edwin Jackson had the St. Louis Cardinals swinging at pitches in

the dirt, so often that catcher Jesus Flores ended up with three

assists throwing the ball to first after strikeouts.

Jackson fanned 10 in eight stellar innings Thursday night as the

Washington Nationals padded their NL East lead with an 8-1 win over

the punchless Cardinals.

”That was a gem,” Washington manager Davey Johnson said. ”He

had electric stuff.”

Bryce Harper hit his third home run in two games, and Jayson

Werth homered for the first time since May for the Nationals, who

opened an 11-game homestand with an overwhelming performance

against a wild-card contender that failed to score an earned run

for the third straight game.

The news was worse for the Cardinals afterward, when shortstop

Rafael Furcal was concerned that he might have suffered a

season-ending injury while making a pair of throws in the sixth

inning.

”It’s bad,” said Furcal, who was diagnosed with a strained

right elbow and will have an MRI on Friday.

The victory moved the Nationals 5 1/2 games ahead of the idle

Atlanta Braves. Washington’s recent five-game losing streak has

tightened the race again, but Johnson’s team has come out of the

funk with 16 runs in two games, led by the top-of-the-order tandem

of Werth and Harper.

A day after his first two-homer game, Harper hit a drive so hard

that it short-hopped the back wall of the Nationals bullpen and

bounced all the way back over the right-field fence. It was a

two-run shot in the first inning, and the teenager followed by

hitting the ball even farther in the third – only to have it caught

on the warning track near the 402-foot mark in straightaway center

field. Some in the crowd gave him a standing ovation as he returned

to the dugout.

Harper added an RBI single in the sixth, further evidence that

he’s fully emerged from a post All-Star game slump. Furthermore, he

played all nine innings – unlike the night before, when he was

ejected for throwing his helmet.

”Bryce is a totally different animal,” Werth said. ”He’s a

special player. He’s 19. It’s unbelievable. When I was 19, I don’t

know if I would have been ready for all this. I’m just glad he

stayed in the game tonight.”

As for Werth, he led off three innings and scored each time. He

walked and singled, then hit his first homer since returning Aug. 2

from a long stint on the disabled list with a broken wrist. He has

four home runs on the season and raised his average to .305.

”I was swinging the bat good. I just haven’t hit any balls that

go over the fence,” Werth said. ”But it was nice to do that. It’s

a lot easier when you don’t have to sprint around the bases.”

The way Jackson (8-9) was pitching, the Nationals didn’t need

all that offense. Once Flores realized the Cardinals hitters were

fishing for the slider, he kept calling it – even if it meant

adding another 2-3 putout to the scorebook.

”It definitely lets you know either they’re trying to get you,

or either they’re just not seeing that pitch that well,” Jackson

said. ”Either way, you just want to try to continue to throw it

and keep it out of the zone if they swing.”

Jaime Garcia (3-6) allowed six runs over 5 1-3 innings for the

Cardinals, who streak of 28 scoreless innings came to an end when

Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman launched a throw well over

the first baseman’s head in the eighth inning, allowing a runner to

score from second on the error.

St. Louis, now with a half-game lead in the race for the NL’s

second wild-card spot, was shut out in back-to-back games by

Pittsburgh before arriving in Washington. The Cardinals last went

three consecutive games without scoring an earned run in 1992.

”Nothing we can put our finger on,” Cardinals manager Mike

Matheny said. ”No explanation at this point.”

NOTES: St. Louis LF Matt Holliday singled in the first for his

1,500th career hit. … The Nationals pitching staff surpassed its

previous best total for strikeouts in a season since the franchise

moved to Washington in 2005 – and there’s still 32 games to go. …

Cardinals C Yadier Molina, who collided with Pittsburgh Pirates 2B

Josh Harrison on Tuesday, was medically cleared to play just a few

hours before Thursday’s game. He went 0 for 2 with a walk. ”I

really didn’t want to pass on the struggles that I had and

automatically throw them on to him,” said Matheny, whose playing

career ended in 2007 due to a concussion. ”Just because I had a

soft squash doesn’t mean that he does. It’s not fair not to him.

The conversation we had was, `Hey, if you pass the tests and the

doctors say it’s OK, I’m not going to stop you. But I’m going to be

extra cautious, because I know more about this than any one person

should know.”’ … Gio Gonzalez starts for the Nationals on Friday

night, facing Adam Wainwright.

Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP