Ivan Nova is the Yankees' third 10-game winner this year.
Twenty-six years ago, on August 4, the Yankees and White Sox played the third game of a four-game set at Yankee Stadium. It was Phil Rizzuto Day at the Stadium, and his number 10 was retired during a pregame ceremony that featured an appearance by a Holy Cow. A few hours later, Rizzuto’s future broadcast partner on WPIX, Tom Seaver, jumped into the arms of Carlton Fisk in celebration of his 300th career victory. Seaver handed the Yankees their fifth loss in six games. They proceeded to win 14 of their next 15 to gain on the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East standings.
No such historical significance defined the lead-up to Thursday’s Yankees-White Sox tilt at US Cellular Field. Derek Jeter passed Lou Brock on the all-time hits list last night. No member of past White Sox teams was enjoying a number retirement ceremony, although manager Ozzie Guillen was the White Sox’ starting shortstop in the Rizzuto-Seaver game.
The only questions were:
Would the Yankees extend their win streak to seven?
Where would the Yankees stand heading into the Boston series?
Regardless of the outcome, how would Ivan Nova pitch?
The answers were “Yes,” “Tied,” and, “Anything would have been better than Burnett, but in a word, awesome.”
The offense didn’t need to give Nova a 12-run lead and hope he held onto it. He did just fine with a one-run advantage, save for the bizarre hiccup on the pitch-out in the third inning that led to the only run he allowed. He was even better when the game was tied in the middle innings. Nova faced the minimum number of batters in each of those innings, and benefited from great defense.
The White Sox mounted a minor threat with one out in the sixth, shortly after the Yankees regained the lead. Juan Pierre reached base on arguably the cheapest hit ever, which brought Alexei Ramirez at the plate. Nova maintained his aggressiveness throughout the Ramirez at-bat, and also did a good job holding Pierre at first. With the count 2-and-2, Pierre took off for second base. Nova got Ramirez to swing at a high, inside fastball for strike three, and Russell Martin quickly threw to second. Robinson Cano fielded the ball on a short hop at the bag and tagged Pierre first on his left arm and then sweeping up to the brim of his helmet to complete the double play.
That play was the turning point of the game. The Yankees tacked on two more runs in the seventh and three in the ninth. Nova made good on the insurance runs, as did the Yankees’ bullpen. Final score, 7-2.
Martin called Nova’s stuff “electric” in his postgame interview with YES Network’s Kim Jones.
“His fastball, he’s reaching up to 95, 96 when he needs it,” Martin said. “He’s working his slider off his fastball and he’s got a good curveball to go with that.
“He’s got four pitches and they’re all working well for him right now. So when you throw 96 and you’ve got four good pitches, you’re going to be a stud, and he’s exactly that.”
“Electric” has been the adjective of choice to describe AJ Burnett’s stuff through the years, almost as a defense mechanism to explain away his inconsistency. It is Nova, though, who a night after Burnett had an outage, lit up Chicago. His performance was not a statement but an exclamation that he should be in the majors to stay and perhaps be an integral part of the Yankees’ October plans. Nova’s victory means in one night, he has earned more wins in the month of August than Burnett has in two previous Augusts as a Yankee. In his last two starts, Nova has beaten more American League teams than Burnett has since June 1.
There’s no decision to make anymore. Nova should be in the rotation. Joe Girardi’s decision may just be which veteran gets bumped come October.
HONORABLE MENTION PLAYER OF THE GAME
J Martin. The Canadian catcher is proving to be one of Brian Cashman’s shrewdest acquisitions last winter. The catch and throw on the double play in the sixth inning preserved the lead in what was then a tight game. He also drove in the last four runs of the game, the capper being a mammoth three-run home run in the top of the ninth. His quiet competitive grit is the perfect balance to Francisco Cervelli’s ebullience. And he’s healthy again.
The Yankees outscored the White Sox 34-11 in the four-game series. They have outscored the opposition 63-19 (average score of 9-3) during the seven-game win streak. … Adam Dunn’s home run in the bottom of the ninth off Hector Noesi was the only run allowed by Yankees’ relievers in the series.
The Yankees meet their White Whale in New England starting tomorrow. They’ll send Bartolo Colon, CC Sabathia and Freddy Garcia to the mound against Jon Lester, John Lackey and Josh Beckett. We know the Yankees’ history against Boston this season: 1-8 and perhaps singularly responsible for the Red Sox’ rise. Since getting their first win of the season against the Yankees, the Red Sox have won nearly two thirds of their games.
Two items of note:
1) CC Sabathia continues to stake his claim for a second Cy Young Award, but if he does not pitch well Saturday, or if he loses, he has almost no chance. Sabathia is 0-3 with a 6.16 ERA against the Red Sox this season. He’s averaged slightly more than 6 IP per start, 8 H, 4 ER, has a 1.67 K/BB ratio, and the BoSox are batting .308 against him. In his 21 other starts, Sabathia is 16-2 with a 2.11 ERA, averaging more than 7 IP per start, has a 4.08 K/BB ratio, and holding opposing hitters to a .223 average.
2) Josh Beckett. The Yankees have done next to nothing against him this season. Beckett dominated the Yankees like he did in the 2003 World Series, to the tune of 25 strikeouts in 21 IP, and just 10 hits allowed.
It should be a fun weekend, and a worthy playoff preview.