It’s been 27 days, which means tomorrow will be exactly four weeks since the Yankees were a .500 team tied for last place in the American League East. Today, they finished off their ninth straight win and will come home with the best record in the American League.
“It’s a different feel on the outside,” Mark Teixeira said. “On the inside, we’re always the same confident group. Not having as much fun (when we’re losing), but I’ve said it dozens of times, no one in here panics. No one in here gets too down, and you’re not going to see us dancing on the tables now. We’ve got a lot of season to go, a lot more wins that we need, and we’re going to keep trying to play good baseball.”
The Yankees have swept three consecutive series of at least three games for the first time since 1998.* They won all six games on this interleague road trip, making it their first perfect road trip of at least two cities since 2002.
“We’ve been playing pretty good for a long time,” Derek Jeter said. “It doesn’t mean you’re going to win, but you want to play well. You want to make other teams beat you. It’s obviously a lot more fun when you’re playing well. We’ve got to continue to do it.”
The secret to the turnaround is obvious. The Yankees might be getting a few more timely hits, but today they 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position. The lineup hasn’t become an unstoppable force, but the pitching staff has. The Yankees allowed six runs this series. They also allowed six runs in Atlanta and seven runs in their three-game sweep against the Mets.
“You can talk about offense all we want, but the fact is our pitching staff is why we are here today,” Teixeira said. “We have a 10-game winning streak, and we’ve gone on this nice run because of our pitching. Hopefully there’s going to be a time in the year when, if they’re not getting the job done, we are, and we’re scoring 7-8 runs a game, and we’re going to pick them up. But they’ve been picking us up lately.”
Today it was Ivan Nova who did the heavy lifting, and he walked off the field to a standing ovation — on the road against a first-place team — after allowing one run through 7.2 innings. It was Nova’s fifth straight win, and he hasn’t lost a game on the road since June 20 of last year.
“You’re saying I got five in a row, but we got nine in a row,” Nova said. “That’s amazing for me, the way I feel right now. … It feels really good. It feels great. The Yankee fans, everybody here was Yankee fans. To be able to pitch a good game, I feel really good. I’m just happy, enjoying this moment right now, and waiting for tomorrow to get back to work.”
• This was the first time Chris Stewart caught Nova this season. “I’ve been catching pretty much all his bullpens,” Stewart said. “(His command) is pretty spot on in his bullpens. Sometimes, he gets in the game and he’s a little erratic, but he was just focusing on the glove today just like he does in his bullpens and he was able to execute pitches. And the rest is history.”
• After an extra-inning game last night, the Yankees needed distance out of Nova. They got plenty of it. “Really important,” Girardi said. “We had some guys down there that could pitch, but you didn’t really have your long man, you didn’t really want to use Clay (Rapada) and I wasn’t going to use (Cody) Eppley. We needed distance from him and he did an outstanding job.”
• Boone Logan faced one batter in the eighth. If he hadn’t gotten that out, he was coming out and Dave Robertson was coming in.
• Nova’s only real trouble came against Adam LaRoche who had a home run and a double. “The homer was a fastball inside, but the ball came back to the middle of the plate,” Nova said. “I don’t think the double was a missed pitch. I think I threw the ball where I want it. For me, it was a good pitch but he hit it hard so you got to give a little credit to him, too.”
• Nova threw only 97 pitches today, but Girardi said he never considered leaving him in to face Adam LaRoche with two outs in the eighth. “Seeing that (LaRoche) had hit a double and a home run, and if he puts another good swing on him it could be 4-3, no, I didn’t,” Girardi said.
• After Nova had hit in Atlanta but went hitless today, Jeter joked that Nova’s starting to struggle at the plate. Nova did prove he can lay down a bunt. “I want to hit, but the situation, man, you know?” he said. “I still got the job done for the team.”
• The Yankees got half of their runs on solo homers by Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, but the RISP struggles resurfaced. “We’re still not happy about that,” Teixeira said. “I wish I could tell you the issue. I don’t know, I really don’t. We just have to be better with runners in scoring position. But our pitchers have picked us up. Our pitchers have picked us up all year. If it’s not for them being so good, we’re not in first place right now.”
• Kind of an odd play by Andruw Jones when he started to go home, hesitated, then ran back to third base on a fly ball to center field in the sixth inning. The Yankees didn’t score in that inning, despite getting Jones to third base with no outs. “He was supposed to go and he stopped,” Girardi said. “I guess he thought the ball was right on line and he was going to be out. He made a bad read.”
• Russell Martin isn’t sure he will play tomorrow, but he said he can play tomorrow. He didn’t seem to be moving around with any problems.
• Nick Swisher, on the other hand, was limping quite a bit after the game. He actually didn’t seem to be moving around any easier than he was pregame.
* Before the game, the Yankees noted that the last time they swept three consecutive three-game series was 2007, but they have since revised that to say it was in 1998. The 2007 reference included a four-game series when the Yankees won only three of four.
Associated Press photos