After struggling in his last start against the Angels, Ivan Nova repeatedly talked about needing to get better. It didn’t take him long to fulfill that promise. Following in the footsteps of Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte, Nova turned in one of the best games of his career and completed only the Yankees’ second turn through the rotation with consecutive quality starts.
When Desmond Jennings singled to lead off the first inning, there were probably more than a few groans throughout the crowd, but that turned out to be the last hit Nova would allow until Sean Rodriguez’ double in the eighth. In between, Nova allowed only two other base runners, as the right hander kept the Rays off balance with a mix of fastballs, sliders, and curves, all of which he was able to throw for strikes.
The Yankees needed Nova to be strong because Rays’ right hander Alex Cobb was nearly as good. Over his first seven innings, the 24-year old starter limited the Yankees to two hits, but each one left the ballpark. In the second inning, the Yankees jumped ahead 1-0 when Mark Teixeira circumvented the shift by sending a curveball deep into the second deck of the right field stands. Two innings later, Robinson Cano doubled the Yankees lead by hitting a wall scrapper that didn’t go nearly as far but counted just the same. The blast came right after Alex Rodriguez was picked off first by Jose Molina, but the forfeited run proved inconsequential.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees tacked on two more runs when Raul Ibanez, Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez recorded consecutive hits, knocking Cobb from the game in the process. Even before the Yankees extended their lead, Joe Girardi seemed committed to giving Nova a chance for a complete game shutdown, but the extra runs made the decision even easier. The cushion also saved Girardi from being second guessed when the Rays greeted Nova with back-to-back triples to start the ninth. However, all questions were rendered moot by Rafael Soriano, who quickly restored order by striking out the next two batters before retiring old friend Hideki Matsui on a deep fly ball to right.
With the victory, the Yankees leap-frogged the Rays into second place, a position they haven’t occupied since April 24. The win also pushed the Yankees’ record to seven games over .500 for the first time all season and set the stage for a series sweep. Perhaps even more important than the season milestones, however, the outcome was also a shot in the arm for Nova, who proved he could be better…at least for one night.