Nova gets late reward for 1st complete game

It would have been an absolute shame if Ivan Nova did not get the victory Friday night, and yet the possibility was there before the Yankees rallied in the bottom of the ninth inning for one of the most satisfying triumphs of the season.

Nova was nothing short of magnificent. He gave up a two-run home run to Matt Wieters in the second inning (after hitting the previous batter, Chris Davis) and only two other hits all game. Nova went the full nine for his first complete game in the majors, but when he came into the dugout before the Yankees’ final at-bat he was staring at a 2-1 deficit. He tried to keep faith and recalled how Luis Cruz told him on the bench a couple of innings earlier that he was not losing this game.

Several other teammates came through for Nova to reward Cruz’s faith. David Adams started the inning against Orioles closer Jim Johnson with a well-struck single to right, which livened up a crowd of 43,396 at Yankee Stadium that had been silent much of the night as the Yankees squandered several opportunities.

Johnson opened the door even more for the Yankees when he mishandled a sacrifice attempt by Brett Gardner and did not get an out anywhere. Big error. Ichiro Suzuki bunted next, not a good one as Wieters grabbed it in front of the plate on the first hop. The catcher looked to third base, but Manny Machado had charged the bunt and was not in position to take a throw at the bag to get the lead runner. Wieters threw to first to get Ichiro, and the Orioles walked Robinson Cano intentionally to load the bases with none out.

Johnson then kicked the door wide open by walking Travis Hafner on four pitches to force home the tying run. Johnson fell behind 2-0 in the count to Vernon Wells, who took a strike and fouled off a pitch before sending everyone home with a ground single to left field. Hafner and Wells had come up short three innings earlier with a runner in scoring position when the Yanks needed a run to tie the score, so their at-bats in the ninth were wonderful atonements. The Yankees had come from behind for a walk-off victory against a division opponent that had swept them a week before in Baltimore and handed Johnson a league-high sixth blown save.

But the best thing about the inning is that it put a ‘W’ next to Nova’s name in the box score. Man, did he ever deserve it. Making a spot start for ailing Hiroki Kuroda, Nova held one of the American League’s fiercest lineups to three hits and a walk with 11 strikeouts over nine innings.

“We’ll probably start him again,” manager Joe Girardi said, tongue firmly planted in cheek. “His curve was really, really good, but he also had a good fastball down in the zone and his changeup was really effective. We played good defense behind him. It was a great team win.”

“A great night” Nova called it. “Everything was working for me.”

Everything but the score until the ninth inning.

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