WASHINGTON -- It's hard to think of a more demoralizing scenario. The Washington Nationals, losers of five straight, were down seven runs to the New York Yankees, whose fans had turned RFK Stadium into a home-away-from-home.
"We didn't hang our heads," Daryle Ward said. "The guys were still alive in the dugout. We starting putting a few hits together, and next thing you know it's like the floodgates opened up for us."
The Nationals rallied with four runs in the fifth, two in the seventh and three in the eighth -- with even Mariano Rivera helpless to stop the momentum. Ward lumbered around the bases with the go-ahead run on Jose Guillen's first triple of the year, and Washington ended its skid Saturday with an 11-9 victory.
"For a team that's been struggling lately, and not getting a lot of breaks, this is huge," said Jon Rauch, one of three relievers who held the Yankees scoreless over the last three innings. "Now we just need to keep it up."
The score was 9-2 after the Yankees' seven-run fifth, which included home runs by Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada, along with Johnny Damon's second grand slam of the year. The crowd of 45,085, the Nationals' first sellout of the year and the largest in Washington since baseball returned to the nation's capital last year, was rocking RFK with cheers for the visiting team.
The turning point followed immediately, when the Nationals answered with four.
"They put up seven," said Ryan Zimmerman, one of five Nationals with at least two hits. "If we put up nothing, it's going to be tough to come back and win that game. Even if we put up two, just responding to that seven is big."
Yankees starter Shawn Chacon had the dubious distinction of failing to last even one inning when given a seven-run lead. He struggled with his control all game -- 45 balls and 55 strikes -- and was removed after 4 1/3 innings, having allowing six hits and six runs.
"We have a 9-2 lead, there's no way I should walk the leadoff guy," Chacon said. "And if they get four or five base hits in a row, then fine. But I was disappointed in that walk and definitely disappointed in not being given the opportunity to get out of it."
In the seventh, Ward hit an upper-deck homer off T.J. Beam, who was making his major league debut after getting recalled from Triple-A Columbus. Pinch-hitter Robert Fick's two-out single off Scott Proctor scored Guillen and made it a one-run game.
But the game wasn't decided until the eighth, when Rivera (4-4) entered the game with one out and Alfonso Soriano on first. Soriano stole second and third, coming home on a wayward throw to third by catcher Posada.
Ward, who had entered the game in the third inning for Nick Johnson (strained back), then walked. Guillen followed with a triple to right center, and Ward -- known more for his hitting than his speed -- starting running out of gas at third base but legged his way home well ahead of the throw.
"At third I was looking at (the coach) like he was crazy, but he was still waving his arm," Ward said. "I was like 'OK.' I'm just making sure my arms were pumping as hard I can to keep my legs going."
"Once I passed him, I was looking at Posada, like, 'OK, we might have a collision, because we need this run real bad."'
Ryan Zimmerman singled home Guillen, whose two clutch hits were a welcome sign after his recent struggles. The win went to Rauch (2-1), who pitched the eighth inning, and Chad Cordero recovered from his loss Friday night to pitch the ninth for his 13th save.
The joy that spread in the Nationals clubhouse was matched by the numbness of defeat across the way. The Yankees wasted 15 hits, including a 4-for-6, five-RBI performance from Damon. They had chased Nationals starter Ramon Ortiz, who allowed 11 hits and six earned runs in 4 1/3 innings, his shortest outing of the year, but couldn't hold the lead.
"As bad as you can get," manager Joe Torre said. "You kept looking up and there were still three innings to go. We didn't pitch very well. That's the only thing you could do. We battled. Everybody worked their tails off, but we just couldn't get it done."
- The comeback was the biggest for the Nationals franchise since the Expos overcame an 8-0 deficit to beat Philadelphia 14-10 on Aug. 26, 2003.
- The Yankees hadn't blown a seven-run lead since a 10-7 defeat at Cleveland on July 14, 2002.
- The Yankees have homered in 11 straight games.
- Nationals SS Royce Clayton sat out after straining a muscle in his right shoulder while diving for a hit in Friday's game. An MRI on Clayton was negative, and he and Johnson are both day-to-day.
- New York's Robinson Cano extended his hitting streak to a career-high 15 games, also the longest for a Yankees player this season.
- Beam was called up to replace Aaron Small, who was designated for assignment after going 0-3 with an 8.46 ERA in 11 appearances this season.
- The attendance barely eclipsed the 44,749 who came for the series opener Friday night.