WASHINGTON -- The Yankees needed Chien-Ming Wang to provide them with a lengthy outing on Sunday. As it turned out, they left him in one batter too long.

Ryan Zimmerman stunned the Yankees with a two-run walk-off home run, spoiling what would have been Wang's first career complete-game victory, as the Nationals took the rubber match by a 3-2 final.

"I thought he was very courageous," Joe Torre said. "It's too bad he came out on the short end. He saved our life, and I'm sorry we couldn't help him win this ballgame. ... This kid pitched his heart out, and I feel bad for him; worse than I do for us."

"It's a tough way to lose," Johnny Damon said. "It was so quick and so unexpected."

Wang (7-3) had been efficient and effective through the first eight innings, holding Washington to just one run on four singles. In that span, 16 of his 24 outs came on ground balls, as he pounded the zone with one sinker after another.

Unfortunately for Wang and the Yankees, the final pitch he threw -- also a sinker -- didn't sink, and Zimmerman pounced on it.

"You saw when the pitch was let go that it was high," Torre said. "It was probably the only mistake he made all day."

"I feel bad," said Wang, who threw his glove into the dugout as he walked off the field, showing a rare burst of emotion. "I lost the game."

Zimmerman's heroics made Alex Rodriguez's big day nothing more than a footnote. A-Rod, who has been working on correcting a mechanical flaw in his swing for the past two days with hitting coach Don Mattingly, had snapped a 1-1 tie in the eighth with an RBI double, putting New York in position to win.

"It's a work in progress; I'm working hard with Donnie every morning and taking baby steps," A-Rod said. "It's not going to come overnight, but it's getting better. I'm definitely feeling more comfortable."

Even in the loss, Wang helped his team by giving the bullpen a day off. Mariano Rivera had thrown 2 1/3 innings to go with Scott Proctor's 2 2/3 frames over the past two games, while Kyle Farnsworth has been out since Friday with back spasms.

Both Proctor and Rivera told Torre before the game that they were available to pitch, but the manager opted to stick with Wang in the ninth, as the starter had thrown just 96 pitches through eight innings.

"Where his pitch count was and with the result we were getting, we decided to stay there," Torre said. "You're lacking the one guy you always go in situations like that. We were in position to win the ballgame without Mo; we just didn't get away with it."

Rivera wanted to take the ball in the ninth, but he understood why Torre decided to stick with Wang.

"I wanted to be there, but it's not up to me," Rivera said. "I'll never second-guess Mr. Torre. If it was up to me, I'd pitch every day. But I look at today and he looks at the season. That's why he's the manager and I'm a pitcher."

Washington's Mike O'Connor matched Wang with seven innings of one-run ball, holding the high-powered Yankees offense to just four hits in the no-decision.

"It's those young guys we've never seen before that tend to give us trouble," said Damon, who went 0-for-5. "It seems like we'd rather face Cy Young Award winners."

The Nationals struck first with a run in the fifth, as Brendan Harris singled in Zimmerman. New York tied the game in the next inning, as Derek Jeter doubled, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Jorge Posada's sacrifice fly.

Gary Majewski (3-2) opened the eighth for the Nats by walking Melky Cabrera, but the right-hander followed with strikeouts of Jeter and Jason Giambi. That brought Rodriguez to the plate, and he drilled the first pitch to deep left-center, scoring Cabrera all the way from first.

A-Rod, who was 7-for-45 in June after Friday's game, went 2-for-2 with a pair of walks on Sunday, his second straight multi-hit game. Rodriguez also had two hits on Saturday, including a two-run home run to center.

"The last two days, he's been so different than he's been this month," Torre said. "You don't hold your breath and hope that something good happens for him now. He's back."

Wang retired the side in order in five of the first seven innings, working quickly and efficiently. Wang went out for the eighth and walked Harris to start the inning.

Marlon Byrd bunted Harris to second, but Wang retired Brian Schneider for the second out. After walking Alfonso Soriano, Wang got Jose Vidro to fly out to left, where Cabrera ran down the ball, making a nice catch to preserve the lead.

Unfortunately for Wang and the Yankees, he was unable to close the deal, losing for the first time since May 22, a span of five starts.

"It was great when we didn't see Rivera out there in the ninth," Vidro said. "We were like, 'Oh, man, we have a very good chance.'"

Wang took a 2-1 lead into the ninth, as the Yankees looked to the right-hander to give the weary bullpen a full day of rest. He retired the first batter in the inning, but after pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson singled through the hole between first and second, Zimmerman drilled the first pitch he saw over the wall in left field, ending the game with one swing.

"He was good all day, keeping the ball down and using his sinker," Zimmerman said. "He left one up [and] I caught it good enough to get it out. It felt good. I knew I got it good enough once I hit it."

"As well as he pitched," Jeter said, "he deserves to get something for it."

By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
06/18/2006 6:10 PM ET

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