WASHINGTON - The Yankees are used to so-called “playoff atmospheres’’ in the regular season. The clubhouse is stocked with players who know what it’s like to be in first place.
Those are relatively new sensations for the on-the-rise Nationals, who received a lesson or two in the Yankees’ first trip to the nation’s capital in six years. New York swept the series between division leaders, capping the three-game set Sunday with another solid performance from starter Ivan Nova in a 4-1 win.
“When you’re playing as well as we are, no matter what the situation is, you feel like you’re going to get it done,’’ Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Both teams entered the series riding six-game winning streaks. The Yankees are now up to nine, their longest since May 2009, and have swept three consecutive series of three games or more for the first time since 1998.
This series drew the eighth-, ninth-, and 10th-largest crowds in the 4 1/2-year history of Nationals Park.
Nova (9-2) gave up seven hits and a run in a mostly trouble-free 7 2/3 innings to win his fifth straight start. He is also unbeaten in his last 15 road starts.
The offense, as usual, came from the long ball. Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano hit the Yankees’ 98th and 99th homers of the season - both solo shots - to make up for another abysmal day (0 for 12) with runners in scoring position. New York is hitting .216 with men on second and third this season.
“We’re still not happy about that,’’ said Mark Teixeira, who went 3 for 4 with a pair of doubles and drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. “I wish I could tell you the issue.’’
Granderson homered off Edwin Jackson (3-4) in the fifth to break a 1-1 tie. Cano made it a two-run cushion in the seventh off Tom Gorzelanny.
Nova was pulled with two outs and a runner on base in the eighth. Boone Logan finished the inning, and Rafael Soriano pitched a perfect ninth for his 13th save.
“We’ve got to play better than that,’’ Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said, “if we want to beat teams like that.’’