NEW YORK | Throughout the course of a baseball season, there are bound to be a few outliers, anomalies that jump off the bell curve and lend some brief reassurance to the team that needs them most.
And what an outlier this would have been, with a Washington Nationals team that has won six times on the road all season, chased into the new Yankee Stadium by rumors their manager is about to be fired, facing a pitcher who dismantled them last season.
But the Nationals are still the Nationals and the Yankees are still the Yankees, and as close as Shairon Martis and Anderson Hernandez would get them, it wasn't enough to secure a win in New York, not once Washington's bullpen and defense entered the equation Tuesday.
The Yankees scored one run after a throwing error, a couple more when Ron Villone started giving up deep doubles Elijah Dukes couldn't handle and another when Mike MacDougal walked one too many batters. And that was the difference between an uplifting victory for the Nationals and an all-too-typical 5-3 win for the Yankees.
The Nationals' 16th loss in 19 games assured they will finish their six-game interleague road trip with a losing record. They've blown leads in all four games so far.
Perhaps most galling was the fact the Nationals wasted another strong start from one of their young pitchers. Washington's starters have one win since May 13 despite getting their starter into the sixth inning or later in eight of the last 13 games.
"[Martis] deserved better," said Villone, the losing pitcher in four of the Nationals' last six games. "And I went out there, and I blew the game. He deserves way better, you know?"
The rookie needed more than 80 pitches to get through the first four innings, but he came out for the sixth having thrown only 98 pitches and left with a one-run lead following an eight-pitch inning.
"I tried to pitch around some guys," Martis said. "I think when I was behind, I was more aggressive."
That the Nationals gave him a lead was even more surprising considering who staked them to it. Alberto Gonzalez singled to left with one out in the fifth, then Wil Nieves - a fellow Yankees castoff - punched a single to right.
Ninth hitter Anderson Hernandez came up to face CC Sabathia. On a 1-2 count, Sabathia tried to get Hernandez chasing a slider but left it higher and farther inside than he would have liked. The shot disappeared just over the left-field wall for Hernandez's first homer since 2006.
It couldn't have traveled more than 335 feet, and it will no doubt be added to the canon of cheap homers decried by critics of the new stadium. But it did put the Nationals up 3-2 until the seventh.
After Damon singled to right, Mark Teixeira pushed a fly ball to the 399-foot sign in left center field. Elijah Dukes chased and caught up to it, but as he leapt at the wall, the ball bounced off his bare right hand. Dukes stopped and angrily pumped his fist as Adam Dunn picked up the ball, but the relay throw to home plate was too late to get Damon.
Robinson Cano then lashed a long line drive to center with one out. Dukes took a step in, then raced back on the ball, but he was too late. The liner sliced just over the top of Dukes' outstretched glove, and Teixeira scored.
"In his defense, he's not a natural center fielder," manager Manny Acta said. "Those balls were hit pretty good. Would I want him to catch every one of them? Yes. But he did make an effort."
MacDougal's two walks led to another run in the eighth, and then it was on to the familiar strains of Metallica's "Enter Sandman," played through a clearer and more expensive set of speakers than anything that ever beckoned closer Mariano Rivera at the old Yankee Stadium.
The result was no different. Rivera kept pumping cut fastballs, a little slower than he used to but still nasty enough to put the Nationals away in order.
Rather than an uplifting win, the Nationals were left trying to find something uplifting in another loss.
"We're building something here with that rotation, and every five days, a guy like Martis goes out there and gives us this type of effort," Acta said. "Some of them probably want to have one or two more wins, and they don't have it, but they continue to pitch well for us."