WASHINGTON -- Matching six-game winnings streaks and impressive overall records squared off, starting a highly anticipated three-game series between the owners of the American League's best record and the National League East leaders.
Score the first one for the grizzled and championship-laden vets from the Bronx over the rising kids from the Nation's Capital.
Curtis Granderson homered and drove in three runs, Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher delivered consecutive third inning RBI singles and Philip Hughes finished with a season-high nine strikeouts as the New York Yankees defeated the Washington Nationals 7-2 on Friday night.
The Yankees improved to 38-25 with their seventh straight win and moved to a season-best 13 games over .500 and before the sellout crowd of 41,406 at Nationals Park. They also earned manager Joe Girardi his 500th career win in the process.
New York proved unkind to its host after the Nationals (38-24) returned home following series sweeps over AL East foes Boston and Toronto.
"We knew that they were playing really well and went into Boston and Toronto and swept both of them," said Hughes after improving to 7-5 with his third straight winning decision. "We knew they were going to be excited to get back home. Thankfully, we scored some runs and pitched the ball well."
Derek Jeter's RBI infield single against Nationals reliever Brad Lidge started the scoring in a four-run seventh inning. On the play, Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond fielded the slow roller in the hole, but rushed and threw wildly past first baseman Adam LaRoche, allowing a second run to score.
"That's kind of the way it went all night," Desmond said. "The first run is off the end of A-Rod's bat. Then (Jeter's grounder). It wasn't like we got crushed tonight. The score probably said so, but we were in it, we were in the game."
Michael Gonzalez replaced Lidge. Granderson, who struck out twice earlier, greeted him with a stinging extra base hit into the left field corner.
"It's one of those things where the first couple of at-bats don't go the way you want them to, you keep your head up and adjust as the game goes on," Granderson said.
Hughes scattered six hits over six innings, allowing one run with two walks. After Michael Morse's RBI single in the third left the bases loaded, Hughes coaxed an inning-ending double play grounder by Desmond. The right-hander then retired nine of his final 10 batters, five by strikeout.
"I made a horrible pitch, hung a curveball on 0-2," Hughes said. "Got out of it on the next pitch which was great, to give up just the one run in that situation."
He did not allow a home run for the first time in 13 starts this season.
"Phil has a good fastball and it seems to get on hitters pretty quickly," Girardi said. "When you see him throw 93, 94 (miles per hour), I think it plays more than that. And his curveball was good tonight."
Nationals' starter Gio Gonzalez (8-3) allowed three runs and five hits with two walks and eight strikeouts over six innings. Now second in the National League behind teammate Stephen Strasburg with 97 strikeouts, Gonzalez has lost two of his last three starts.
The hyped series began with a dazzling first inning. After Gonzalez struck out both Jeter and Granderson on 3-2 pitches, 19-year-old rookie Bryce Harper robbed Mark Teixeira with a diving catch in center.
In the third, Rodriguez's two-out seeing-eye single to right field scored Jeter and Swisher followed with a base hit to left, driving home Teixeira.
"We didn't have a ton of opportunities off Gio, but the one inning we got a couple two-out hits," Girardi said. "Then we broke the game open obviously a little later on, but we've been getting important hits."
Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada each followed Hughes with a spotless inning of relief. David Robertson permitted a Danny Espinosa RBI groundout in the ninth.
Granderson tacked on his 20th home run of the season with a ninth inning blast over the right field wall against reliever Tom Gorzelanny.
After Andruw Jones led off the seventh with a single, Lidge replaced Gonzalez but offered no relief, allowing three runs on one hit and two walks, one intentional.
Leading off the sixth, LaRoche drove a Hughes fastball deep to center, but Granderson chased it down, crashing into the wall for the catch.
Rodriguez's RBI was the 1,924th of his career, moving into a tie for sixth place all-time with Jimmy Foxx.
NOTES: Girardi rested the left-handed hitting Robinson Cano against the left-hander Gonzalez, allowing the All-Star second baseman two straights days off. ... Nationals manager Davey Johnson said RHP Drew Storen (right elbow) has "been throwing off the mound a couple of times" in extended spring training and will be in Washington this weekend, but imagines the team's closer is still "three weeks, a month away" from returning to the active roster. ...The Nationals had their 2012 first round draft pick, 17-year-old Lucas Giolito, at Nationals Park on Friday. The right-handed pitcher and the 16th overall selection is reportedly weighing a decision to sign with the Nationals or accept a scholarship to pitch for UCLA. ... Dignitaries on hand included Supreme Court justice -- and established Yankee fan -- Sonia Sotomayor. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey threw out the first pitch.
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