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Yankees cough up seven-run lead, lose to Nats

WASHINGTON (AP) -- 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."

Game notes
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.