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Nats rookie dampens Yankees' offense

Nats rookie dampens Yanks' offense

NEW YORK -- The Yankees added spice to an epic rain delay by recording video messages for the huge center-field video screen, promising that they wanted to play as much as the fans wanted to see them.

So they waited, and after a delay of more than five hours, the game finally began. But the bats came out soggy against rookie right-hander Craig Stammen, who silenced the wet lumber and recorded his first Major League victory.

The fans that stayed also witnessed history. For the first time in the new Yankee Stadium's 35-game life, no player hit a home run.

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In a surprisingly crisp afternoon game that crept into the late-evening hours, the Yankees could not make it worth the wait, dropping a 3-0 decision to the last-place Nationals that saw New York lose two out of three in the series.

"That's a big league team, regardless of if they only have 18 wins," said Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon. "On any given day, they can go out and beat you."

Washington did, in a contest that left one Yankee jarred and aching, as Brett Gardner crashed into the outfield wall pursuing an eighth-inning Austin Kearns fly ball. Gardner left the field after having the wind knocked out of him.

If the rest of the Yankees didn't feel it physically, they certainly shared the sentiment, never expecting that they'd leave town unable to fatten their record against the worst team in the Major Leagues.

"The homestand started off pretty good, and I thought it was important that we had a good homestand, and we did," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We were 3-1 after four games and I thought we had a chance to have a special homestand, and we didn't get it done. That bothers me. It bothers all of us."

With Stammen cruising through the first homerless game at the new Yankee Stadium, the Bombers did not mount any consistent support for starter Joba Chamberlain, who allowed three runs in six innings.

After clashing with Jorge Posada on Friday against the Mets, Chamberlain found a better flow with rookie catcher Francisco Cervelli, scattering seven hits while walking four and striking out six. But with the Yankees' offense dormant, his 100 pitches were not enough to lead the way.

"Joba threw OK, he kept us in the game," Girardi said. "You can't expect your guys to shut them down every night and not give up any runs. He gave up three runs in six innings, so he did OK. Joba wasn't the issue."

After a five-hour, 26-minute wait, the bats were. Limited to three hits through six innings and with no runners reaching third base through that span, New York finally rallied in the seventh inning to chase Stammen, who entered the contest with two losses and a 5.86 ERA in five big league starts.

Willie Harris made a terrific diving catch in left field to rob Alex Rodriguez of what would have been his first hit since a Saturday homer against the Mets, but Robinson Cano singled and Nick Swisher doubled on Stammens' final offering of the day.

"He didn't leave too many pitches over the heart of the plate," Damon said. "We had some good swings but it seemed like when we did, they were positioned well. They did everything to beat us two out of three."

What remained of the paid crowd of 45,143 came alive for the first time in hours, and after a strikeout, pinch-hitter Jorge Posada worked a walk against former Yankee Ron Villone to load the bases.

More noise greeted a rare, dramatic pinch-hitting appearance from Derek Jeter -- out of the lineup nursing a stiff left ankle -- but Julian Tavarez got Jeter to roll into an inning-ending forceout on a nifty sliding play by the shortstop Guzman.

Jeter's fifth career pinch-hitting appearance ended like the others -- hitless. It helped cement the Nationals' first shutout of the season and their first series victory since May 8-10 at Arizona.

"That's why you don't play the games on paper," Jeter said. "A lot of teams, regardless of what their records are, if they come here or we go there, they get up for us. They want to perform well and they want to play well. It's a playoff game for them a lot of times."

Stammen's performance wrapped up a homestand where the Yankees struggled mightily against pitchers they have never seen. The Mets' Fernando Nieve and Washington's trio of Shairon Martis, John Lannan and Stammen held New York to a combined 1.64 ERA (27 1/3 innings, five earned runs).

"I'm not going to talk about it," Girardi said. "I think the more we talk about it, the more people think about it. The bottom line is we have accomplished hitters. You've got to look for a good pitch and put a good pass on it. If you do those things, usually good things are going to happen."

Chamberlain continued his first-inning struggles by surrendering back-to-back doubles to Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn, putting Washington on the board early.

He ran into more trouble in the fourth inning, issuing three walks -- including one with the bases loaded to light-hitting former Yankee Wil Nieves, whose departure from the Yankees in 2007 brought plenty of raves about his personality but none for his threatening bat.

"I'm just trying to find rhythm," Chamberlain said. "You get locked in at your normal time and when they throw you in there, you've still got to find a way to find your rhythm. It wasn't bad."

Guzman opened the fifth with a double to left and Zimmerman cashed in the run with a two-base hit of his own, concluding scoring against Chamberlain.

But Girardi would gladly take three runs in six innings from his youngest rotation member every fifth day -- it's the zero runs in nine innings that does nothing for them.

"We've been in a funk for a while. We've got some guys who are struggling a little bit, but offenses are going to go through ups and downs. You've got to find ways to win those games, and we didn't do it."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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