NEW YORK - Craig Stammen and the Washington Nationals really dampened the New York Yankees’ day.
After waiting out a 5½-hour rain delay at the beginning, Stammen earned his first major league victory, Julian Tavarez provided key relief and the last-place Nationals beat New York 3-0 Thursday night in the first game without a homer at the new Yankee Stadium.
“When you have three meals at the ballpark before you start the game, it’s been a long day,” Nationals manager Manny Acta said. “It was worthwhile.”
Boosted by Ryan Zimmerman’s three hits and a bunch of nifty plays, Washington posted its first two-game winning streak since taking three straight May 7-9. Behind Stammen (1-2), the Nationals became the last team in the majors to pitch a shutout this season.
Unsure whether there would be a game, Stammen bided his time by reading a book, watching games on TV and eating lunch. Hours later, he learned he would be pitching.
“I guess it started right on time for me,” he said.
Maybe it was the damp air, or perhaps it had more to do with Stammen’s neat 6 1-3 innings, but nobody managed to clear the fences. There had been a whopping 119 home runs through 34 games at the majors’ newest launching pad.
Scheduled to start at 1:05 p.m., the game did not begin until 6:31 p.m. A postponement seemed unlikely because the teams shared only one mutual off-day the rest of the season for a possible makeup.
There is no official record of the longest rain delay in big league history, but this certainly ranked high at 5 hours, 26 minutes. The start of a pennant-race game in 1999 between Cincinnati and Milwaukee was delayed 5 hours, 47 minutes.
The call on whether to play or not rested with the Yankees.
“I was in the loop at all times,” New York manager Joe Girardi said. “When we were supposed to start and couldn’t, at 2, 3, 4 or 5, all of those times.”
Said umpire crew chief Charlie Reliford: “It was their decision entirely. I had no input whatsoever.”
About 10,000 people were sprinkled around the ballpark for the first pitch. When the Yankees announced fans could move down, there was a stampede toward the $2,625 seats in the front row. By the end, the upper deck and bleachers were virtually empty.
Later, the Yankees said all stubs for the game — used or not — could be redeemed for tickets or merchandise this season or in 2010.
Despite the messy weather, it was an extremely crisp game. No pratfalls, no errors and several sharp plays on both sides.
Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner made one of the best, tracking down Austin Kearns’ long drive in the eighth. The back of Gardner’s head whiplashed against the plexiglas wall, and he was down on the warning track for several minutes after getting the wind knocked out of him. A woozy Gardner was driven off on a golf cart.
“The body feels fine. I just have a little headache,” Gardner said.
The Nationals’ problematic outfield produced two gems. Left fielder Willie Harris made a diving catch on the warning track to rob Alex Rodriguez, and Kearns unleashed a perfect throw from right to cut down Nick Swisher at second.
Stammen worked around six hits, walked none and struck out two in his sixth big league start. The 25-year-old rookie sent the Yankees to their sixth loss in nine games.
Tavarez relieved with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh. He retired pinch-hitter Derek Jeter on a grounder, with shortstop Cristian Guzman skidding to his left to make the stop. Exactly four years ago, Jeter hit the only grand slam of his career.
Mike MacDougal pitched the ninth for his second save. On Wednesday night, he closed out the Yankees for his first save in the majors since 2006.
Zimmerman doubled twice and singled off Joba Chamberlain (3-2). He scored twice and drove in a run as the Nationals took a 3-0 lead after five innings.
Notes: Jeter did not start for the second straight game because of a sore left ankle. ... Washington 2B Ronnie Belliard wasn’t feeling well and was scratched from the starting lineup. ... The game took 2 hours, 59 minutes.
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