Stammen steamrolls Yankees for first win
Kearns, Harris contribute stellar defense behind Nats rookie
NEW YORK -- Nationals right-hander Craig Stammen had to wait five hours and 26 minutes to pitch in Thursday's game against the Yankees because of a rain delay. It was worth the wait, however, for Stammen pitched the best game of his Major League career as Washington blanked New York, 3-0, at Yankee Stadium.
At first, right-hander Jordan Zimmermann was supposed to get the start against the Yankees, but he was pushed back because of a tired elbow and that allowed Stammen to get the nod. Stammen then called his father, Jeff, to tell him that Yankee Stadium was the place to watch him throw.
Stammen didn't disappoint his father. He pitched 6 1/3 innings without giving up a run and won his first Major League game. He struck out two batters and walked none.
After giving up a leadoff single to Brett Gardner in the first inning, Stammen retired 12 out of the next 13 batters he faced. When he left the game, Stammen had thrown just 82 pitches and felt that he should have pitched even longer.
"It was a long wait. I didn't know we were going to play," Stammen said. "They said we're going to start at 4 o'clock, but I ended up waiting some more. But I guess it started on time for me.
"It was fun. Everyone looks forward to pitching at Yankee Stadium. So much history has been made here. I can say my first win was at Yankee Stadium."
Stammen was able to keep the Yankees off balance because of his sinker. He had nine ground-ball outs in the game.
"He was sinking the ball over the plate instead being too fine," manager Manny Acta said. "He did a very good job. He wasn't intimidated. He went after these guys. They kept beating the ball into the ground."
Stammen left the game in the seventh inning after giving up a single to Robinson Cano and a double to Nick Swisher with one out, but relievers Ron Villone and Julian Tavarez were able to get Stammen out of the jam.
In a lefty-lefty matchup, Villone struck out Hideki Matsui for the second out of the inning. After Jorge Posada walked to load the bases, Villone was taken out of the game in favor of Tavarez, who was able to get pinch-hitter Derek Jeter to ground into a force play at second to end the inning.
Joe Beimel and Mike MacDougal shut out New York the rest of the way.
"The relievers have been throwing the ball well," Acta said. "Villone did a tremendous job. The strikeout on Matsui was huge. It turned the game for us right there. Tavarez did a great job getting Jeter out. Beimel and MacDougal did the job on the back end, too."
Washington's defense, which has been a liability for most of the season, played a huge role in the victory. The best plays came from outfielders Willie Harris and Austin Kearns.
In the fifth inning, Swisher got a base hit near the right-field corner. Swisher then went for two, but Kearns threw Swisher out at second.
Two innings later, Alex Rodriguez led off and hit a shot over Harris' head in left field, but Harris dove and made a great backhanded catch.
"We had flashes of good defense [in the past], but we haven't been consistent," Acta said. "Today, it showed today. Kearns is a pro. He is struggling mightily at the plate, but the first ball that is hit to the wall, he makes a great defensive play. Today was one of those days that the defense was the bright spot."
Joba Chamberlain pitched for New York, lasted six innings and gave up three runs on seven hits. Adam Dunn drove in the first run with a double in the first inning. Three innings later, the bases were loaded when Chamberlain walked Wil Nieves to force home Ryan Zimmerman. Cristian Guzman scored the last run of the game on a Zimmerman double in the fifth inning.
The Nationals ended up winning two out of three games from the Yankees. It seemed improbable considering that Washington has the worst record in baseball.
"Despite our record, we are playing better baseball," Acta said. "We came in and we threw strikes, we played good defense and we ended up winning the series against one of the top teams in the league."
For winning his first game, Stammen received a shaving-cream pie in his face. His eyes were burning for the next half hour, but you will never hear him complain. The words from his dad made up for the pain in the eyes.
"He said congratulations and that he was proud of me. Anything a dad would say. He still can't believe what's going on. He is a proud papa," Stammen said.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.