Appropriately enough, Jackson's journey of despair experienced closure Sunday when the Devil Rays took a 9-4 win over his old team, the Dodgers, in front of a crowd of 18,248 at Tropicana Field. And Jackson got the W.
Jackson, who was acquired by the Rays in a trade with the Dodgers on Jan. 15, 2006, held his former team to two runs on nine hits and one walk in six innings.
"Nice for Jackson to pick it up," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Jackson did not cave in. Kept going after them and we made some good plays on defense today. I thought he did a nice job. ... He seemed to throw strikes when he had to."
Jackson overcame an early hiccup when Luis Gonzalez hit a two-run homer in the first. Gonzalez's 10th home run of the season landed in the Rays Touch Tank in right-center field, the first home run to find the aquarium since the tank was installed during the 2006 season.
Unlike so many of Jackson's starts, where he pitched well at intervals but could not survive one big inning, the Rays right-hander managed to minimize the damage and made an adjustment, then tacked on five scoreless innings.
"I just mixed in more offspeed," Jackson said. "They came out swinging, very aggressive against the fastball. I tried to use that to my advantage."
Jackson said getting a win requires a combination of things to dovetail in the right direction.
"A little bit of luck, a little bit of skills and great defense," Jackson said. "We had a lot of great defensive plays behind me. And it takes a great team effort to get a win and that's what we did tonight."
Jackson and Jay Witasick, who took over from Jackson to start the seventh, benefited from a pair of fielding gems by second baseman Josh Wilson.
Jackson allowed a leadoff single to Russell Martin in the sixth and one out later, Wilson was moving to his right with the runner going when James Loney hit a ball in Wilson's direction. He grabbed the ball and tagged the runner, then threw to first for the inning-ending double play.
Witasick struck out Matt Kemp to start the seventh before Wilson Betemit hit a ball to the right of Ty Wigginton that deflected off the outstretched glove of the Rays first baseman. Wilson had to plant and go back the other direction to grab the ball and throw to Witasick covering first for the out.
"I learned my lesson earlier in the year when I had one of those plays that was similar," Witasick said. "It was one of those plays where it was off the bag, off his glove, and I broke down, took a stutter step and the same thing happened. And I was about a half a second late getting to the bag. And I got beat out to first. After that play, I'm running them all out until the umpire makes a decision."
The Rays blew the game open in the seventh when they pushed across five runs to extend the lead to 9-2. Dodgers reliever Joe Beimel threw away Akinori Iwamura's sacrifice bunt to allow the first run to score. Brendan Harris added an RBI single, Carl Crawford doubled home two more and Delmon Young drove in the fifth run with a single.
A lot of Rays contributed to the victory -- Wigginton homered and drove in two -- but clearly Sunday belonged to Jackson, who said he is grateful to Maddon for continuing to believe in him.
"I'm sure he's dealt with a lot of tough questions about why I'm still in the rotation and whatnot," Jackson said.
Maddon hopes and believes the faith he has shown in Jackson will pay a rich dividend for the Rays.
"I spent most of my years in development in this game and you look at a guy like E.J.," Maddon said. "This guy has a tremendous ceiling and we know that. ... We're in a situation now where we are able to work through some difficult moments with him. The reward can be tremendous. I don't know if it's going to be tremendous, but I know it can be. It's the potential thing. He's just dripping with that.
You look at him and if the light goes on and he gets a lot of confidence, there's no telling what a guy like him can do. Because his stuff is that above average."