The difference between Ivan Nova and some starting pitchers is what transpired during the seventh inning.
With the bases loaded and a five-run lead, Nova did not wilt under pressure and thus preserved his shutout and a 5-0 victory over the Rays.
“He’s shown it,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Last year sometimes innings
got away from him. He’s done a much better job at that this year and has
figured out how to get out of innings when he hasn’t had his best
stuff, he has figured out how to get outs and that’s just maturation and
we need him to continue to grow up for us.”
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Nova’s 16th victory, his 12th in a row, was highlighted by numerous things. In doing so, the Yankees reduced their magic number for clinching a playoff spot to two and their magic number for the AL East to three.
The latter is what made Nova’s outing even more impressive, especially in the seventh. He loaded the bases by allowing a broken-bat single to Sean Rodriguez, hitting pinch hitter Jose Lobaton with a pitch and walking Reid Brignac.
Those men never strayed off their bases.
“He’s gotten better,” Derek Jeter said. “It seems he’s not flustered.”
And that seems to be the biggest difference in Nova’s ascent from a pitcher struggling to get through four or five innings, to someone who can succeed in the later innings.
“On the mound, he’s a bulldog,” Nick Swisher said. “He’s a chill guy [in the clubhouse], but when he goes on, he’s a bulldog.”
Nova’s victory tied the record by a Yankee rookie in a single season.
Those records were set by Russ Ford in 1910 and Atley Donald 29 years later. Few may recognize those names, but with the way Nova is pitching, he is becoming so recognizable that he might become the Game Two starter.
“I don’t know about the October rotation,” Nova said. “I just know about the season right now.”
In the seventh, Nova recorded the first out with a harmless pop-up by Desmond Jennings. Two pitches later B.J. Upton hit a fastball to third baseman Eric Chavez, who seamlessly turned a 5-4-3 double play.
“If he gives up a hit there, I probably take him out and go to Soriano,” Girardi said. “Upton hit it hard because he’s not an easy guy to turn a double play, but he got the ground ball. He had been getting his share tonight and that’s why I left him in there but that’s a huge out.”
“It was unbelievable,” Nova said. “That inning, I didn’t have command of my pitches.”
That was the finale on a night that saw Nova become the fourth man to win at least 16 times as a rookie in the last decade. The previous three were teammate CC Sabathia with Cleveland in 2001, Jason Jennings with Colorado in 2002 and Justin Verlander with Detroit five years ago.
Nova exited to a standing ovation after walking Casey Kotchman. As he trotted into the dugout, Nova pounded his glove in excitement.
The next time Nova starts will be against the Red Sox, whom the Yankees lead by five games and have a magic number of four to clinch the AL East. That could come this weekend against the Red Sox when Nova starts.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.