Eight games into the 2012 season, the Yankees were having the same problem that plagued them in last year’s ALDS loss to Detroit -- the inability to hit with runners in scoring position.
Not after Sunday night. The Yankees were 16-for-80 with runners in scoring position before Derek Jeter’s three-run home run in the fourth inning. The hit highlighted a 5-for-12 showing with runners in scoring position in an 11-5 victory over the Angels.
“I think our at-bats have been good for quite some time now,” Jeter said.
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“I talked about it earlier today and eventually it’s going to change,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Sometimes we get caught up in small samples. Eventually our guys, if you keep putting good at-bats [together], good things are going to happen and that’s what happened tonight.”
Jeter’s home run was not even the most impressive blast of the night, though it continued the captain’s outstanding start. That belonged to Raul Ibanez, whose shot to right field in the seventh landed in the suite level below the upper deck and gave the Yankees double-digit runs for the first time this season.
Before the two home runs, the best example of proficiency in the clutch occurred during a four-run third inning that knocked out Angels’ starter Jerome Williams. Before the most productive night of the young season, Alex Rodriguez and Jeter were hitless in nine at-bats while Mark Teixeira was 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
“We have a good lineup,” Jeter said. “It’s not always going to be like this. There’s a lot of good lineups and one through nine when teams are swinging the bats well, they’re going to look good and tonight we looked good. Last night we didn’t.
“It’s just one of those things. You’d like everyone to swing the bats well all the time. It’s not always going to happen, but when we all do it, it looks like this.”
With one out in the third, the Yankees had Jeter on second following a productive out by Curtis Granderson (groundout) that scored the go-ahead run from third. Rodriguez followed with a single to left field and following a walk to Robinson Cano, Teixeira roped a double to the right field corner that made it 4-1.
“I think everyone in here knows what this lineup is capable of,” Nick Swisher said. “I think it’s all a matter of going out there and proving it. On paper we look pretty good, but you got to go out and make it happen and tonight we did.”
The combination of a four-run inning and Jeter’s opposite field home run was enough for Ivan Nova to win his 14th-straight regular season decision. Nova last suffered a regular-season loss June 3 in Anaheim. Last night, he allowed four runs and eight hits in six innings.
“He’s pitched pretty well. It was something he had to learn,” Girardi said. “The first year he did have a lead and he’d get to the fifth inning and sometimes it would get out of hand a little bit. But I’ve talked about his ability to control innings and to me that’s the maturation.”
Though Nova has allowed 18 hits in his two starts, he found ways to get outs, including eight strikeouts.
Nova gave up a solo home run to Mark Trumbo in the second on his curveball and a two-run home run to Chris Iannetta in the fifth on his fastball. Those were not as damaging as they could have been as the Angels went 0-for-6 against Nova in clutch situations.
Nova also helped himself by retiring Albert Pujols three different ways. Pujols has now opened his Angel career without a home run in 37 at-bats. Against Nova he lined out, struck out looking and grounded out.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.