The Yankees had already stranded the bases loaded twice. Mark Teixeira had committed his first error since May 6, and by the time Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher let a fly ball drop between them, it seemed this might not be the Yankees day. The Twins had runners at second and third with no outs against rookie Ivan Nova.
“When you look at that inning, you try to tell yourself, ‘It’s okay to give them one, let’s try not to give them two,’” Joe Girardi said. “‘Don’t give them a multiple (run) inning, and we can come back.’ He made it even better. He didn’t give them any. It was an outstanding job of pitching and an outstanding job by Russ. The game plan they executed today was great.”
Maybe you prefer that two-hit start against the Rangers in early May, or maybe those eight terrific innings against the Reds in mid June, or the 10-strikeout game against the White Sox earlier this month. Whatever the pecking order, this was clearly one of Nova’s finest starts of the season. It was the first time he allowed no runs, and it was his fifth win in as many starts since coming back from Triple-A.
“The big leagues is the big leagues,” he said. “Nobody wants to be in the minors. I came a long way from my hometown to be here, and now that I’ve got the opportunity to be here, I don’t want to lose it. You’ve got to stay here in the big leagues and try to do your job every time.”
It was that fifth inning that defined Nova tonight. He’d already pitched around an error in the third inning and induced a double play in the fourth. With runners at second and third in the fifth, he got back-to-back strikeouts before Drew Butera rolled over a routine grounder. All three outs came on a slider, the pitch that’s turned Nova from a promising but inconsistent rookie into a reliable and occasionally dominant starter.
“It’s not like the beginning,” Nova said. “I was throwing only fastball, curve. I wasn’t throwing my changeup either. And now we’ve really got all my pitches going. It’s a lot different. I think the hitter doesn’t know what pitch you’re going to.”
Here’s Nova. He’s now 13-4 with the most wins for a Yankees rookie since reliever Ron Davis won 14 in 1979. He has the most wins for a Yankees starter since Doc Medich in 1973.
• Curtis Granderson was briefly tied for the Major League lead in home runs, but Jose Bautista also went deep today. Granderson said he never thought his ball was going to leave the park, but he was surprised to see Rob Thomson waving him home. “The one we never really work on happens and we’re going one more base to home,” Granderson said. “Mechanically, it was probably the most incorrect thing because the angles were all off because I was getting ready to stop at third base.”
• It was Granderson’s third career inside-the-park home run, but Granderson initially said this was his second. Someone had to remind him that he had an earlier one against the Angels (the one he remembered was against the Yankees). The last Yankee to have an inside-the-park homer was Derek Jeter last season.
• Mark Teixeira’s third-inning error was his first since May 6, snapping a streak of 87 consecutive games without an error, the longest single-season streak of his career.
• Oh yeah, Teixeira also homered in the game.
• Speaking of defensive mistakes, both Granderson and Swisher said their misplayed ball in the fifth was a matter of bad communication. Granderson ranged well into right field, and Swisher didn’t hear him calling the ball until the very end (that’s when he tried to stop). Granderson knew he was supposed to take charge, but he also knew he’d come well into Swisher’s area and he worried Swisher hadn’t heard him, so he tried to stop as well. “Guys were busting Curtis and I a little,” Swisher said. “And I said, ‘What are you taking about? You should thank us.’ After that, Nova got filthy.”
• Derek Jeter had another hit and is now three away from Rod Carew for 22nd on baseball’s all-time hits list. Jeter also drew a walk, and he’s now 16 away from being the sixth Yankee to reach 1,000 walks in his career.
• Alex Rodriguez reported no soreness after the game and said he was happy with the way he felt. Girardi acknowledged that Rodriguez’s timing might have been off at the plate, but he made a great play on an early bunt.
• Rodriguez on the bunt play: “That was a good test just because he runs so well. It was a bang-bang play. That’s a play that I’m going to have to make, so it was good to make it.”
• Rodriguez expects other teams to try to bunt on him for a while until he’s proven that knee is 100 percent. “It’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s not going to stop now. For the next two weeks, I’m going to have to make that play over and over again.”
• Dave Robertson got out of a bases-loaded jam again. Does this even count as a note any more? The three base runners reached base without getting the ball out of the infield (two infield singles and a walk).
• Mariano Rivera got his 33rd save.
• Robinson Cano matched his season-high with a 13-game hitting streak. He hasn’t done that since April. His double led to the Yankees first run in the sixth inning.
• Freddy Garcia is scheduled to throw 65 pitches or four innings for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre tomorrow. Right now, Garcia and Nova are lined up to start that doubleheader in Baltimore.
• One of those random clubhouse notes: A.J. Burnett shaved that blonde hair off his head today.
Associated Press photos