Nationals' win streak ends with 7-2 loss to New York
The crowd buzzed with anticipation as if at a prize fight. Scanning one end of the stadium to the other, every seat was filled and others even paid good money just to stand and watch. The most-anticipated series the Nationals have played since the first one at RFK Stadium in 2005 was a party that no one wanted to miss.
In the end, the New York Yankees sent many of the 41,406 fans home disappointed after a 7-2 victory on Friday. But for one night at least the result could take a back seat. Washington was playing the sport's premier franchise in front of the eighth-biggest crowd in Nationals Park's five-season history and both teams were in first place in mid-June. It was the kind of night local fans had long dreamed of and rarely seen - even if they had to share it with a large chunk of Yankees fans in attendance, too.
"We all love to play in this kind of atmosphere. We haven't had a chance to play in many of them in the seven years I've been here," third baseman Ryan Zimmermann said. "It's always fun when you get out there and play in what I think playoff baseball would be like."
Washington left-handed pitcher Gio Gonzalez threw 6 innings, plus a batter, allowing three runs on five hits with eight strikeouts and two walks. That at least gave his teammates plenty of chances to take advantage, but the Nats stranded nine runners on base through the first five innings. That's far too many against a team like New York. An RBI single by Alex Rodriguez in the third inning and another by Nick Swisher in that same frame gave the Yankees all the runs they needed. None of those pitches were particularly hard hit, but they got the job done anyway.
"They found holes. You just have to learn how to smile about it and just move on," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez retired nine of the final 10 batters he faced, but a leadoff single in the seventh inning proved his undoing. In relief, Brad Lidge walked the first batter he faced, Russell Martin, and a sacrifice bunt pushed the runners to second and third. An intentional walk to pinch hitter Robinson Cano then set up Derek Jeter's infield single. Pinch runner Dewayne Wise scored on the hit to the left side of the infield and Martin crossed home after a throwing error by shortstop Ian Desmond to make it 4-1 Yankees. Curtis Granderson then followed with a two-run double off reliever Mike Gonzalez to put the game out of reach at 6-1.
"Actually, when I look back at it now it's kind of frustrating because you don't really feel like you're [pitching poorly]," Lidge said of his haywire inning against four batters. "And then all of the sudden you're out of the game. 'What just happened?'...Can't control results a lot of times. You can control what you do pitching-wise, but sometimes you throw the pitch you want and it doesn't work."
Washington fell to 38-24 with the loss and had its six-game winning streak snapped. But the Nats' lead in the National League East was trimmed by just a half game. They are four in front of the Atlanta Braves. Their other three division rivals - Philadelphia, Miami and the New York Mets - all lost, too, on Friday. The Yankees (38-25) remain alone in first place in the American League East, extended their own win streak to seven games and are now 17-4 over their last 21.
"We opened the door for them and that's what happens," Nats manager Davey Johnson said. "We had opportunities and we just didn't capitalize, men on base early in the ballgame. But we didn't deliver and that's baseball."