But disaster struck late, as the Chicago White Sox rallied with four home runs -- three consecutive off Jackson -- in a five-run seventh inning to steal a 5-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in front of an announced crowd of 37,030 at U.S. Cellular Field on Monday. The game was a makeup contest for the rainout between the two teams on May 26.
"We've been getting that issue straightened out, and it just happened so quickly," said manager Joe Maddon, about his club's recent improvement on keeping the lead late in the ballgame. "You get four homers in one inning, three back-to-back-to-back, that's just very unusual. It was one of those quirky things that happens, and it happened to us."
Jackson, staked to a 4-0 lead, had kept the White Sox off the scoreboard and scattered five singles before that pivotal seventh. A.J. Pierzynski took Jackson deep on his first pitch of the frame, Jermaine Dye followed with a shot to left on Jackson's seventh pitch of the at-bat and Juan Uribe capped off the trio on Jackson's ninth toss in the inning. Jackson hung a changeup to Pierzynski and hung a slider to Uribe. Dye, he said, just hit a good pitch.
"That guy has pitched pretty well," said Pierzynski of Jackson. "For that to happen is pretty surprising. It seemed like we were totally dead, and out of nowhere, we came to life."
Maddon agreed with the White Sox catcher's sentiment.
"[Jackson] had been using his fastball, slider and changeup all game well," said Maddon. "He was not tired, his pitch count was in order, everything was good. He just gave up homers.
"It's really too bad. It's unfortunate, because we should have won that game. We should have won that game."
Immediately after the White Sox thunder subsided, Jackson proceeded to give up his fourth straight hit of the inning, a double to Danny Richar, and was replaced by Dan Wheeler (0-2). The right-handed reliever allowed a two-run, go-ahead blast to Josh Fields with two outs and was saddled with the loss.
Jackson was charged with four runs on nine hits, while striking out two and walking one, in six-plus innings. He was looking to win back-to-back decisions for the first time since a career-high three-game win streak from Sept. 27, 2003, to July 8, 2004.
"They just hit the ball out of the park," said Jackson. "The way I threw [earlier], none of that changed. I made a couple mistakes and they hit the ball, that's what they get paid to do. They put the bat on the ball in one inning, and hit three home runs that quick."
Early on, the Rays bats were active and, combined with Jackson's sparkling pitching, Tampa Bay (51-80) appeared to have the White Sox (57-74) on the ropes.
Delmon Young ignited the Rays in his first at-bat with a 412-foot two-run blast to center field off Chicago starter Jose Contreras (7-16) in the second inning. It was Young's 10th homer of the season and his first since June 22, snapping a drought that lasted 59 games and 231 plate appearances.
The Rays missed a chance for more in the fourth, which ultimately proved critical. After B.J. Upton hit a one-out single and advanced to third on Young's subsequent single, his second hit of the game, Brendan Harris grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Tampa Bay did capitalize in the fifth and sixth, however, adding a run in each frame and demonstrating some sharp, fundamental baseball in the process. After Greg Norton walked to start the fifth and Josh Wilson followed with a single, Josh Paul laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance the runners, and Akinori Iwamura plated Norton with a sacrifice fly. In the sixth, Carlos Pena lined a double to right field and scored on Upton's ensuing single.
"We did some nice things," said Maddon. "When B.J. Upton drove in Pena, he was just trying to move him over but had a line-drive base hit to right field -- good baserunning by Pena, good bunt by [Paul], good hitting by Iwamura to get the runner home from third base -- a lot of good stuff. A lot of good stuff."
The Rays' fielding also stood strong behind the bats and Jackson's arm, having not committed an error since Aug. 22 after another mistake-free game.
But finding comfort in the success the Rays had in this short stop in Chicago, before they move on to Baltimore for a three-game series with the Orioles beginning Tuesday, only makes this particular loss harder to take.
"No errors again, we're not making any errors right now and we're playing some good defense," said Maddon before pausing to reflect.
"You gotta win that game. You can not allow that game to get away."
Jeremy Smith is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.