Yankees cap sweep of Nationals in battle of first-place teams

Ben Standig, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

WASHINGTON -- Last month the Yankees sported a .500 record and shared space in the American League East basement.
Few signs of that sputtering club have existed since, certainly not in the win column, certainly not during a highly anticipated series in the nation's capital.
Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano homered, Mark Teixeira had three hits and Ivan Nova continued his winning ways on the road as New York completed a three-game sweep of the Washington Nationals with a 4-1 victory Sunday afternoon.
Owners of the best record in the American League, the Yankees (40-25) have won nine straight, the last six on the road. Since May 21, New York has won 19 of 23 games.
"Whenever you're on a winning streak, you want to keep it going," Teixeira said. "Pitching's contagious, hitting's contagious. We've just been enjoying the game the last few weeks."
Granderson's solo blast in the fifth inning -- his second home run of the series and 21st on the season -- off Nationals starter Edwin Jackson put the Yankees ahead 2-1.
Facing the Nationals for the first time in his career, Nova (9-2) allowed one run and seven hits over 7 2/3 innings. He walked one and struck out four for his fifth win in as many starts.
"You said I have five in a row, but we have nine in a row," Nova said, answering a reporter's question about his personal winning streak. "I feel really good. I'm just happy, enjoying this moment right now."
Nova has not lost on the road in 15 starts, a stretch dating back to June 20, 2011. Some of his best work during that span has come recently. The right-hander has a 0.79 ERA over his last three starts.
"The ceiling is pretty high for this kid," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Comes down to location, and when he makes pitches, he's really good."
In relief of Nova, Boone Logan picked up the final out of the eighth inning, and Rafael Soriano pitched the ninth for his 13th save.
The youthful Nationals (38-26) entered the series between two first-place teams riding a six-game winning streak. They wound up on the wrong end of a sweep for the first time at home this season. All three games of the series were played before sellout crowds, with 41,442 in attendance for the finale. In the three games, the home team scored only six total runs.
"When we're scoring low runs, every little thing is a big issue, especially against a good hitting ballclub," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "There is no let-up in their lineup."
Though hardly the only culprit in the lack-of-offense department, third baseman and No. 3 hitter Ryan Zimmerman went 1-for-13 over the weekend, which did not help Washington's cause. Since June 9, Zimmerman is batting .121 (4-for-33) with one RBI.
"Offensively, we're just coming up a little short," Johnson said. "Only thing that really concerns is me we have to get Zimm going. We need to get Zimm in a happy place."
After an 0-for-7, five-strikeout performance in Saturday's 14-inning loss, rookie Bryce Harper went 2-for-4 with a double.
Jackson (3-4) pitched six innings, allowing two runs on seven hits and three walks. He struck out one. Jackson fell to 2-7 lifetime against the Yankees.
Adam LaRoche's solo blast in the second tied the game, and he nearly duplicated the feat in the fourth, sending a Nova offering off the top of the right-center-field wall. After Ian Desmond's one-out single put runners on the corners, Danny Espinosa grounder was fielded by Cano for an inning-ending double play.
Cano reached base four times. The second baseman's seventh-inning home run off reliever Tom Gorzelanny increased the lead to 3-1.
Saturday night's hero following his go-ahead, two-run double in extra innings, Teixeira drove in the Yankees' first run Sunday with a first-inning sacrifice fly. In the seventh, he followed Cano's home run with the first of two doubles and eventually scored an insurance run on a passed ball.
The veteran Teixeira denied the sweep represented any kind of statement for the annually contending Yankees. Harper, 19, offered the same take for the Nationals.
"It's not October yet, that's how you look at it," Harper said.
NOTES: Desmond's fourth-inning error was his third of the series. ... The Yankees went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position. ... Before the game, the Nationals designated right-handed reliever Brad Lidge for assignment and reinstated right-hander Ryan Mattheus from the disabled list. Lidge allowed two runs and took the loss in Saturday's game. In his first season with the Nationals, Lidge went 0-1 with two saves and a 9.64 ERA in 11 appearances. Mattheus, out since May 21 due to a left plantar fascia strain, pitched one-third of an inning Sunday, issuing a walk. ... New York returns home Monday for a three-game series against Atlanta, with left-hander CC Sabathia starting against Braves lefty Mike Minor. ... Washington continues its AL East run Tuesday, playing host to Tampa Bay. Nationals right-hander Chien-Ming Wang and Rays left-hander David Price will start the opener of the three-game series.

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