YANKEES 2, ORIOLES 0
When Ivan Nova took the mound on Saturday he carried the weight of a pennant race, a proud franchise and a paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 42,836 on his broad shoulders. After watching him pitch, though, it appeared as if he was toying with the Baltimore Orioles as he calmly and cooly retired them one after another.
The 26-year-old Dominican right-hander surrendered only three hits and a walk while he fanned five en route to a complete-game shutout over Baltimore to allow the Yankees to claim third place in the American League East standings.
Nova (8-4) threw only 104 pitches in recording his first major-league shutout over an Oriole team that did more flailing at Nova’s sharp curveball than a dodo bird pointlessly trying to take flight.
Nova received all the support he really required in the bottom of the first inning when Brett Gardner led off with a sharply stroked double down the right-field line off Orioles right-hander Scott Feldman (11-10). One out later, Robinson Cano laced a double of his own off the right-field wall to score Gardner.
The game remained 1-0 until Feldman left the game after seven innings, giving up just the one run on six hits and a walk with five strikeouts.
Left-hander Troy Patton opened the eighth by throwing a 2-1 slider that Cano drove over the auxiliary scoreboard in right and about 12 rows back for his 25th home run of the season, giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
Nova only gave up a bloop single off the bat of Matt Wieters with no outs in the second inning, a ground-ball single to left by Manny Machado with two out in the sixth and an infield single off Nova’s glove by Nate McLouth to leadoff the ninth.
Nova opened the second by hitting Adam Jones on a 1-0 pitch and Wieters followed with his single. But Nova escaped the jam by retiring Nick Markakis on a double-play grounder and J.J. Hardy flew out with Jones on third to retire the side.
Nova also hit Chris Davis with a errant curve with one out in the fifth. But Nova retired Jones and Wieters to end that inning.
Nova also walked Hardy to lead off the eighth but he then induced Wilson Betemit to hit into a double play and ended the inning by cutting down Brian Roberts on a come-backer to the mound.
After McLouth’s single in the ninth, Nova got Machado on a routine fly to left, survived a scare when Davis flew out to the warning track in right and ended the game by getting Jones on a line drive to short.
Since returning to the rotation as full-time starter on July 5 – ironically with a complete-game 3-2 victory at Yankee Stadium over the Orioles – Nova is 5-2 with a 2.09 ERA in his 10 starts during that span.
The Yankees not only have won this crucial three-game weekend series with the Orioles. They now are 72-63 and are a half-game ahead of the Orioles in third place in the division. The Orioles fell to 71-63. In addition, the Cleveland Indians lost 10-5 to the Detroit Tigers, which allowed the Yankees to move ahead of the Indians in third place in the wild-card standings, four games away from a playoff spot.
- With CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes struggling of late, Nova came through with one his best starts in of his career. Nova threw no more than 16 pitches in any inning and retired the Orioles in six frames on 12 pitches or less. Nova also allowed the vaunted Yankee bullpen to get a well-deserved day off. After falling off measurably last season and spending most of the first half of this season on the disabled list, Nova is becoming the pitcher the Yankees thought he was when he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in his rookie season in 2010.
- Cano was pretty much the team’s offense again on Saturday. He was 2-for-4 with a double, a home run, a run scored and two RBIs. Cano finished August by batting a sizzling .370 with four home runs and 19 RBIs. He has raised his season average to .309 and he leads the Yankees in home runs (25) and RBIs (89).
- Gardner reached base in three of his four plate appearances and ended up 2-for-3 with a single, a double and a run scored. Gardner’s double in the first inning gave him 133 hits for the season, which is a career high. Gardner had 132 hits in both 2010 and 2011. Gardner struggled in August, hitting just .238 with a home run and nine RBIs.
There is nothing negative to this effort. Nova was sensational from his first pitch to his last, Cano provided the team just enough offense and the defense helped Nova mow down the Orioles like tall blades of grass. This was a very important victory for the Yankees. But they can’t rest on their laurels. They have to keep winning.
Third baseman Alex Rodriguez had to be scratched late from the starting lineup due to weakness associated from flu-like symptoms. Mark Reynolds was moved from first base to third base to replace Rodriguez and Lyle Overbay was inserted into the lineup to play first. Overbay, who entered the game hitless in his past 16 at-bats, was 2-for-3 with a pair of singles in the game. Manager Joe Girardi said he is hopeful that Rodriguez will be able to play on Sunday. . . . Since Aug. 16 the Yankees can boast of having the best bullpen in the major leagues. In that span, the bullpen has an ERA of 1.05 with a 3-0 record and five saves. . . . The Yankees are undecided about what players and how many players they will add when the rosters expand on Sunday. The only obvious choice will be the recall of rookie right-hander Preston Claiborne to bolster the bullpen.
The Yankees can collect a sweep of the Orioles on Sunday and put some distance between them in the division.
Left-hander Andy Pettitte (10-9, 4.05 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Pettitte, 41, has won his past three starts and he is coming off the seven scoreless innings he threw against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday. In the past 10 seasons, Pettitte is 16-5 with a 3.05 ERA against the Orioles.
The Orioles will counter with left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (7-7, 3.76 ERA). Chen was shelled for eight runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday in what Chen said was the worst start of his career. Chen is 1-3 with a 5.10 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.