“I got (the ball),” Ivan Nova said, grinning like you wouldn’t believe. “It’s going right next to my bed. When I was young I wanted to be like a big big-league hitter.”
Nova settled for being a pitcher, and tonight he was an awfully good one. Which is to say, he was very nearly a bad one but found a way to pitch the Yankees back into a tie for first place in the American League East.
There’s nothing about the pitching line to suggest Nova was struggling. He went seven scoreless, walking one, striking out six and allowing five hits, all of them singles. The Braves put one runner into scoring position. But Nova also fell behind in the count a lot, and he put the leadoff man on base five times. His defense helped him out — including a fine play of his own — and Nova made big pitches when he had to. That’s what carried him, and the Yankees for that matter.
“I didn’t have my best stuff tonight, but I had a game plan in my mind,” Nova said. “I followed it really good today and I made a pitch when I needed it. … When you have your best stuff to pitch, it’s easy. When you don’t have your best stuff, you’ve got to fight.”
Tonight, Nova fought. And he won. He said his fastball command wasn’t particularly good, and that’s usually key for him. But he got away with a few mistakes, made a few big pitches and got huge plays out of Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano and himself (snagging a line drive to start a double play in the Braves two-hit third).
“Our innings were kind of long in between, so I’m not sure if he ever got to a real rhythm,” Joe Girardi said. “I thought he battled and gave us a strong seven innings. He got some big double plays, and he made the pitches when he had to. That says a lot. It’s not always going to be easy when you’re out there, where everything just goes your way, and you’re ahead of everyone, and you look up and you’re 1-2 on everyone, and there’s not a lot of runners on base.”
But enough of this pitching nonsense. Nova wants to tell you about his hit…
“I was ready to hack the first pitch, but he was throwing hard,” Nova said. “I see that ball like 100 (mph). After the second pitch I was just trying to make contact. I wasn’t thinking about getting on base or anything like that, I just wanted to make contact. I didn’t want to strike out. I got a pretty good swing on it. It was fun.”
It must have been fun. For so many reasons.
• Girardi’s perfectly accurate and perfectly hilarious assessment of Nova’s second-inning single and the following job to first base: “He hit a rocket,” Girardi said. “I found out he doesn’t have a lot of speed.” Nova didn’t argue about his time from home to first. “That’s why I’m pitching,” he said.
• Boone Logna closed out the win but didn’t get a save. All told, Logan, Cory Wade, Clay Rapada and Cody Eppley combined for two hitless, walkless innings with three strikeouts.
• Rafael Soriano said he’s never had a blister problem and could have pitched tonight if necessary. “I’ll come back tomorrow and do my work and my throwing and everything and we’ll see after that,” he said.
• Nova on the line drive that he turned into a double play in the third: “I don’t really see that ball. It went right into my glove. I just react. I can’t say I was real good and I went to catch that ball. I just reacted, and I got the double play.”
• Swisher on his leaping catch in the fourth: “McCann’s got some serious thunder that way. In a situation like that, we’re kind of playing a little deeper in that spot. I just happened to get up on it. White men can jump, you know?”
• Swisher’s far more honest assessment of his catch: “I made it look a lot cooler than what it really was.”
• The Yankees are winning — obviously — but this was another night of 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, and Girardi took a different approach when asked about it. “Let’s not (talk about it) and let’s see if it changes,” he said. “Let’s try a different way, and let’s see if it changes.” When it was brought up again, Girardi literally screamed — he claimed to be doing a Kramer imitation — to signal that he didn’t want to talk about it. He wasn’t really avoiding the question, just having some fun with the writers, and it was honestly pretty funny. Truth be told, what more can he say about the RISP problem at this point?
• Would Girardi have sent Nova back out for the eighth inning if he didn’t have to hit in the top of the inning? “It would have been a question,” Girardi said. “First humid night we’ve had, and he had to work really hard. He started getting some balls up, so I probably would have made the change. He would’ve had one more hitter, at the most, in the American League game.”
• Robinson Cano was the only Yankees hitter with more than one hit. He had his 20th multi-hit game of the year and brought his hitting streak to nine games, during which he’s hitting .342. He’s had more than one hit in four of those nine games.
• Raul Ibanez’s second-inning homer was his 10th of the year, but his first since May 20 against the Reds.
• Wise words from Ibanez on winning the series opener: “It’s always important to win the first one,” he said. “And equally important to win the second one.”
• And leave it to Swisher to come up with the good quote about being back in first place. “It’s nice to kind of be back in this spot,” Swisher said. “Because this is where we feel we belong.”
Associated Press photos