We already knew that Ivan Nova has pitched well enough to be the Yankees number two starter. David Cone said on the broadcast tonight that young pitchers often start at home in the playoffs but that Nova has pitched even better on the road. So there’s that. And we know the kid makes us feel better than Bartolo, Hughes, Fab Five Freddy or A.J. Burnett. Against the Rays, he showed us why as he had a slider working, threw a sharp breaking curve ball and the heater was moving, clocked around 94 mph. He didn’t putz around and threw strikes. Mmm, mmm, good.
And when he ran into trouble, Nova didn’t panic. He gave up a lead off single in the top of the seventh, leading 5-0. Then a phantom hbp call put another runner on before Nova walked the number nine hitter to load ‘em up. But he got Desmond Jennings out on a fly ball to Brett Gardner in left and then “escaped unscathed,” as they like to say, when B.J. Upton grounded into an inning-ending double play. Good thing too because although a five-run lead might sound like plenty, the Yanks left 637 men on base over the first six innings (for good measure they left the bases juiced again in the seventh and two men on in the eighth). Curtis Granderson did most of the damage with three hits, including two doubles, and four RBI. Eric Chavez also had an RBI base hit.
Nova lasted through two outs in the eighth, gave up a hit and Boone Logan got the final out. Luis Ayala came on to pitch in the ninth and the first pitch he threw was smacked right back at him. Ayala got a glove on it and the ball continued on past him. Robinson Cano moved to his right, slowed down to make sure his timing was right, fielded the ball, turned his body and side-armed the ball to first in time for the out. It’s a play that has become Cano’s signature move and man, does he ever look smooth making it. Always tops it off with a big smile too. After a walk, Jeter started a slick 5-4-3 double play to end it. Mark Teixeira with the beautiful scoop–and he had a couple of those tonight.
Final Score: Yanks 5, Rays 0.
And the magic number to clinch a playoff spot is down to two.
[Photo Credit: Symbiopsychotaxiplasm]