For all of the success Ivan Nova has had this season, I’m amazed I haven’t read more about the fact that this was a player the Yankees didn’t even protect in the 2008 Rule V draft, and who they nearly lost to San Diego for chump change until the Padres apparently decided he wasn’t good enough for them.
Nova continued to show why he’ll almost certainly be getting the ball in Game 2 of the ALDS, firing 7 2/3 shutout innings — tied for his second-longest outing of the season — against the Rays and leading the Yankees to a 5-0 victory. The outing — in which Nova gave up six hits, walked three and struck three men out — was Nova’s 5th-best of the season by Game Score (67), and also tied for best Game Score of any member of the Yankee rotation in the month of September (CC Sabathia put up a 67 on September 4 against Toronto and Bartolo Colon also did it September 9 against the Angels), although he appeared poised to turn in arguably his best start ever, if not for a Casey Kotchman two-out walk in the eighth. Had Joe Girardi not lifted him — he was only at 103 pitches — Nova might have been able to get through eight shutout innings for the first time in his career. The closest he’s ever come were the eight innings of one-run ball he threw against Cincinnati on June 20, which remains the best start of his career.
If you want to get picky about the outing, it would’ve been nice to see Nova pick up a few more strikeouts and not rely entirely on batted ball luck. However, at this point, considering the fact that he’s been able to do it all season, it may be time to just accept that Nova continues to inch closer to becoming Chien-Ming Wang part II, a.k.a. a pitcher that may not have a true out pitch but that can execute when he needs to to induce a much-needed groundball.
The offense came to life in the 2nd inning against Wade Davis, as Eric Chavez singled home a Nick Swisher double, while Curtis Granderson cleared the bases several batters later with a double down the right field line. That the bases were even loaded was a bit of a fluke itself, as Brett Gardner decided to lay down a bunt with runners on 1st and 2nd and no outs — in the second(!) inning — but he managed to beat the throw and leg out an infield single. I almost wish he’d made out there, except even if he did he undoubtedly would’ve still thought that the sacrifice was the right play there. As much as I hate the bunt, I’m OK playing for one run late in a tie ballgame, but I just can’t abide handing an out away when you could be playing for a huge inning. The Yankees still got their huge inning, but the process was shoddy.
Nova’s biggest test came in the 7th, as he worked himself into a bases-loaded, no-out jam, and managed to walk away completely unscathed, getting Demond Jennings to pop out and then inducing a huge double play off the bat of B.J. Upton. Jennings’ at-bat was by far the biggest moment of the night, with an LI of 2.01, so big ups to Nova. While Rays fans were likely tearing their hair out at being unable to convert any runs in that situation, Yankee fans went bald with the number of bases-loaded opportunities the team squandered. The Yankees came to the plate with the bases juiced three times following Curtis’ huge double in the second and came away with zero runs in each instance. They won, and so all is forgiven, but it’s still worth noting the Yankees left 18 men on base in this one. I suppose that’s preferable to not putting men on at all, which is something they were doing quite a bit of for much of this month.
This game also evened the Yankees’ number of times being shutout with the number of times they’ve shut their opponent out on the season, with both tallies at eight.
The Yankees’ magic number for a playoff berth is now down to two, which means they’re in as long as they win one of their two games today. If they sweep today’s doubleheader and Boston loses to the Orioles again, they can also lock up the American League East today. Good times.
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