August 2013

Nova does just what the skipper ordered

In assessing the explosive offense after Friday night’s 8-5 victory, Yankees manager Joe Girardi added, “And let’s get the pitchers right, too. We have to click on all cylinders, basically. One night, we might score eight runs. The next night, we may not. And that’s when the pitchers have got to pick up the hitters.”

Give the skipper a swami turban.

Ivan Nova’s three-hit, complete-game shutout Saturday was just the kind of performance the manager had talked about. For a while there, it looked as if the Yankees’ run in the first inning on doubles by Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano off Scott Feldman was all they would get before Cano made the score 2-0 with a home run into the right field bleachers off lefthander Troy Patton in the eighth.

Nova was certainly uplifted by Cano’s 25th homer of the year. He hoped Girard would let him go out for the ninth inning and not be tempted to bring in Mariano Rivera. The second run helped.

“I told the guys I don’t want a 1-0 game; get me another run,” Nova said. “I’m happy that Joe gave me the opportunity.”

Nova earned the chance to finish this one out. He walked one batter and hit two but allowed only three hits. The third was a leadoff single in the ninth inning by Nate McLouth on a chopper to the mound that Nova knocked down but could not recover in time to throw him out. And Girardi still stayed with Nova.

“If it had been a walk, it might have been different,” Girardi said. “But he got a ground ball. And what we needed after that was another ground ball.”

Nova did not get another grounder, however. McLouth getting on added drama to the situation because the third hitter due up that inning was the major-league home run leader, Chris Davis. One swing could have tied the score. After Manny Machado flied out to left, Davis had the Yankee Stadium crowd gasping when he hit a towering fly ball to right field.

That was when it was discovered that Ichiro Suzuki is pretty good at playing possum, which I though was strictly an American trait. Ichiro did not move at first, an indication that the ball was behind him and in the seats. Then after a tantalizingly long moment, he held his glove up over his head and made the catch on the warning track. Suzuki knew he was playing with the crowd.

“Humans want to come from a bad place to a good place,” he said. “Of course, you have to make the play.”

Unlike many of the 42,836 in attendance, Nova didn’t think the ball was going out. The look on Davis’ face told him that, a look that said, “I didn’t get it.” Catcher Chris Stewart said Davis hit the ball off the end of his bat, another good sign of the sinking movement on Nova’s fastball.

There was still another dangerous hitter to go, but Adam Jones’ line drive ended up in the glove of shortstop Derek Jeter.

“He picked up the hitters and the bullpen,” Girardi said of Nova, who won his fourth consecutive start in improving his record to 8-4 with a 2.88 ERA.

With CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda showing signs of fatigue and Phil Hughes winless in nearly two months, Nova has been the rotation’s savior in the second half. The Yankees will go for the series sweep Sunday afternoon behind Andy Pettitte, who is also on a winning streak with three straight victories.

“The key to me for Nova is that he is keeping his fastball down in the zone,” Girardi said. “He has a good curve, but it is even better because he can keep hitters off balance with that fastball down in the zone.”

Girardi also gave Nova credit for “finding himself” during his time in the minor leagues last year and this following his 16-victory season in 2011. Nova agreed.

“I went to Tampa where I worked to do the things I needed to do to prove what kind of pitcher I can be,” Nova said.

It comes down to maturity. Nova was a pretty green kid when he surprised people in 2011. The league catches up to young pitchers if they are not careful, and Nova took his lumps. Saturday, he showed what kind of pitcher he can be.

It was an uplifting day for the Yankees, who jumped over Baltimore into third place in the American League East after a 47-game period since July 7 in fourth place and also positioned themselves ahead of Cleveland in the wild-card chase where they still trail Tampa Bay and Oakland, but as Girardi pointed out, “It sure beats four or five” teams ahead of them.

A-Rod sick; Reynolds slick

Alex Rodriguez was a late scratch from the Yankees’ lineup Saturday because of flu-like symptoms. There is no truth to the rumor that Lyle Overbay, who recently had the flu, passed along the symptoms to A-Rod so he could get into the game.

Once again, Yankees manager Joe Girardi had right-handed Mark Reynolds in the original lineup at first base against a right-handed starting pitcher, Baltimore’s Scott Feldman. It worked for Joe Friday night as Reynolds had two doubles, a single and an RBI in the Yankees’ 8-5 victory. With Rodriguez down Saturday, Reynolds moved to third base and Overbay was inserted at first.

The move had an early payoff for the Yankees. Reynolds robbed Wilson Betemit of a hit leading off the third inning with a diving stop to his left and a strong throw across the diamond to Overbay.

Medal of Honor winner saluted at Stadium

There was a special tribute at Yankee Stadium before Saturday’s game against the Orioles. The Yankees recognized in a pregame ceremony at the plate United States Army Staff Sergeant Ty Michael Carter, the most recent recipient of the nation’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, which he received Aug. 28 from President Obama.

Staff Sgt. Carter, who was accompanied at the ceremony by his wife, Shannon, and was greeted by Yankees relief pitcher David Robertson, was honored for his heroic actions Sept. 3, 2009 during an attack by enemy forces at Combat Outpost Keating in the Kamdesh District of Afghanistan.

NBC News reported that according to the Army’s official account of the event that was the deadliest day for U.S. forces in the war effort that year, Staff Sgt. Carter “braved a blizzard of bullets to take out Taliban fighters and rescue a wounded brother-in-arms during the clash, which left eight American soldiers dead and wounded more than 25 others.

“Without regard to his own safety,” the Army report continued, Carter “proved himself time and time again. He resupplied ammunition to fighting positions, provided first aid to a battle buddy, killed enemy troops, and valiantly risked his own life to save a fellow soldier who was injured and pinned down by overwhelming fire.”

Staff Sgt. Carter received repeated standing ovations from the crowd as his military endeavors were delivered by public address announcer Paul Olden. It was a stirring moment.

Earth to Yankees: These games are vital

Let it be known that the Yankees are aware they reside on planet Earth. They played Friday night’s game against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium with the fierce determination of a team aware of the obstacles facing them in their quest for a postseason berth.

“They would have to be on another planet not to know the importance of this stretch of games,” manager Joe Girardi said before the opener of a 10-game homestand.

Girardi did not hesitate to remind them anyway with the way he managed, which was akin to it being Game 7 of the World Series. The 8-5 victory before a boisterous Friday night crowd of 45,169 was an ideal way to get this pivotal period of the season started for the Yankees.

The skipper pulled CC Sabathia, who gave up five runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings, after 86 pitches, then played mix and match with his bullpen in an effort to protect a lead that his starting pitcher failed to do once and threatened to do twice, which has been an unfortunate custom of his this season.

This was a weird one. Sabathia and Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez traded zeroes for three innings before balls started getting whacked all over the yard and over the fences. Home run leader Chris Davis singled in the first run of the game in the top of the fourth, but a two-run, opposite-field home run by Alfonso Soriano in the bottom half put the Yankees ahead.

Danny Valencia answered that with a two-run homer in the fifth to regain the lead for Baltimore. The Yankees went gangbusters in their turn at-bat that inning and retrieved the lead by putting up a five-spot and chasing Gonzalez. The Yanks began the inning with four consecutive extra-base hits – doubles by Curtis Granderson and Mark Reynolds for one run, Ichiro Suzuki’s first home run in 132 at-bats for two more runs and a double by Austin Romine. A single by Brett Gardner and a walk to Derek Jeter loaded the bases and hastened Gonzalez’s departure. Robinson Cano greeted left-handed reliever T.J. McFarland with a single to left to drive in two runs.

Sabathia gave a run back in the sixth when Adam Jones doubled and scored on a two-out single by Nick Markakis. That was it for Girardi, who made the move to Shawn Kelley. Valencia singled Markakis to third, but Kelley got out of the inning without further damage. With one out in the seventh, Girardi brought in lefthander Boone Logan to face lefty-hitting Nate McLouth, who flied out, and then righthander David Robertson against righty-swinging Manny Machado, who grounded out.

The Yankees added to their lead with a run in the seventh on an RBI single by Alex Rodriguez. They lost a shot at another run on poor base running by Alfonso Soriano. He and A-Rod pulled off a double steal of second and third with one out. Against an over-shift on Granderson that had the third baseman playing in the shortstop hole, Soriano could have walked home from third on Grandy’s push bunt toward third. Sori held up for some reason and motioned back to third, but Rodriguez was nearing that base. Pitcher Francisco Rodriguez had fielded the ball by that time and threw to catcher Taylor Teegarden for an easy tag-out of Soriano.

Girardi was hit with several questions after the game about why Granderson bunted in that spot as if it were a dumb play. I thought it was a terrific move on his part. The defense was giving him practically the entire left side of the infield. Why not drop one down and get a free run?

Robertson handled the eighth inning without fault and turned the ball over to Mariano Rivera in the ninth. Enough said.

Girardi had indicated the importance of this series with the announcement before the game that Phil Hughes would be pushed back to Monday night against the White Sox so that Andy Pettitte could start Sunday against the Orioles. The reason for that should be self-explanatory. Girardi had a hunch about Reynolds in starting him at first base against a right-handed pitcher instead of Lyle Overbay. Reynolds had three hits one an RBI. He was thrown out on the bases twice, but no one said he was Rickey Henderson.

Losing series in Toronto unexpected

Who would have thought the Yankees would stall in Toronto? They came to Rogers Centre having won 12 of 13 games against the Blue Jays this year but dropped two of three after having done the same in the previous stop at St. Petersburg, Fla. As the calendar days wear down, the Yankees can ill afford losing series.

The 7-2 loss Wednesday night pushed the Yankees 5 ½ games behind in the wild-card chase, which is their only realistic shot at a piece of the postseason since they are 8 ½ games out of first place in the American League East. This loss was especially painful considering the pitching matchup.

The Yankees had Hiroki Kuroda, who has emerged as their ace this season, going against Todd Redmond, a 28-year-old journeyman righthander who has spent nine years in the minor leagues. You’d have bet the ranch on Kuroda – and you would have lost.

It is fair to say now after three subpar starts that Kuroda has hit a wall. The righthander was down 7-0 by the third inning, although two of the runs were unearned due to a bizarre play by the normally reliable Chris Stewart behind the plate. After a passed ball that went back to the screen, Stewart threw wildly to first base for an error that allowed two runners to score.

Kuroda was already in trouble by then. A terrific, diving play by shortstop Derek Jeter kept the first inning from being truly disastrous as if four runs were not enough. Before Stew’s blunder, Kuroda gave up hard-hit doubles to Ryan Goins and Brett Lawrie, walked one batter and hit another.

A four-run, deficit with eight innings to go is not the uphill climb that would have faced the Yankees before their lineup became fortified by the returns of Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez and the additions of Alfonso Soriano and Mark Reynolds. Redmond (2-2) gave up run-scoring hits to A-Rod and Reynolds but shut down most of the rest of the order for 5 2/3 innings. Three relievers stopped the Yankees on two hits over the next 3 1/3 scoreless innings.

The Yankees were poised for a big inning in the fourth but a questionable send of A-Rod by third base coach Rob Thompson choked the rally. Rodriguez after two hip surgeries does not run the way he once did and was thrown out at the plate.

Reynolds, the nouveau second baseman, had three of the Yankees’ five hits. He made his first start at the position since he was in the minors eight years ago and did a respectable job. If nothing else, manager Joe Girardi found out he can use Reynolds at that position in the future if an emergency calls for it. Eduardo Nunez was in the original lineup but was a late scratch due to soreness in his right knee that he injured Tuesday night. Robinson Cano, who was hit in the left hand by a pitch Tuesday night, is expected back in the lineup Friday night when the Yankees open a weekend series against the Orioles.

As for Kuroda, he made it through five innings, but the results were not pleasant – nine hits, seven runs (five earned), one walk, four strikeouts, one home run (by Edwin Encarnacion, his 34th, an absolute bomb).

It was the third straight shaky start for Kuroda, whose ERA over that stretch has gone from 2.33 to 2.89. In his past three starts, Kuroda is 1-2 with an 8.10 ERA in 16 2/3 innings. Thursday’s open date allows Girardi to give his starting pitchers an extra day of rest in the rotation. Kuroda certainly seems in need of it.

Long ball returns to Yankees’ arsenal

The power is back for the Yankees, is it ever. I don’t think we will hear people complaining about the Yankees relying too much on the long ball the way they did last year. As tepid as the Yanks’ offensive attack has been this year, watching balls go over fence is a welcome sight.

Alfonso Soriano led the way Tuesday night with two home runs and four RBI in the Yankees’ 7-1 victory over the Blue Jays. Sori fell into a slump as he approached his 2,000th career hit, but the same thing did not happen as he approached his 400th home run. He reached it one pitch after he cranked out No. 399 two innings earlier. Soriano also made a dazzling defensive play in left field in the ninth inning with a terrific, running and leaping catch to help stall a late Toronto rally.

Alex Rodriguez hit career home run No. 651, and Mark Reynolds went hard as well. Reynolds also played one inning at second base as both Robinson Cano and Eduardo Nunez came out of the game with injuries. Reynolds, normally a corner infielder, played second base twice in 2007 with the Diamondbacks. His ninth-inning, fill-in role included being part of a double play that ended the game. It was one of four twin killings for the Yankees in the game.

Cano left the game in the first inning after being hit by a pitch from Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ in the left hand. X-rays were negative. Nunez, who took over at second base and was a part of two double plays, twisted his right knee in the eighth. He remained in the game and got a single in the ninth. Manager Joe Girardi decided to play it safe and had Lyle Overbay pinch run for Nunez. Overbay stayed in the game at first base with Reynolds moving over to second.

Andy Pettitte pitched another beauty with seven shutout innings in which he allowed five hits and two walks with three strikeouts. Pettitte pushed his season record over .500 at 10-9 and in so doing reached double figures in victories for the 14th time pitching for the Yankees, which set a franchise record as he broke the tie he had shared with Whitey Ford.

It was a continuation of good fortune for Pettitte, who hit a bit of a wall at mid-season but has rebounded nicely. In his past six starts, Pettitte is 3-1 with a 2.94 ERA in 33 2/3 innings and has allowed two runs or less in five of those starts.

Derek Jeter, in his second game back from the disabled list, got into the mix with two hits and an RBI.

This was a satisfying victory all around for the Yankees, who were hoping to gain some ground in the postseason chase and moved within one game of third place in the American League East.

Health Fair at Yankee Stadium Wednesday

The Yankees and Lincoln Medical Center continue their borough-wide efforts to immunize children and adolescents ages 4-18. The seventh collaborative “Back-to-School Immunization Health Fair” will be held at Yankee Stadium Wednesday in the FedEx Banquet and Conference Center from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Vaccinations protect children now and for years to come against serious, sometimes life-threatening diseases such as tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, and hepatitis. The Lincoln Medical Center and the Yankees partnership promote awareness of childhood diseases and the importance of timely vaccinations.

“As we strive to ensure that every child is immunized and protected against preventable childhood diseases, this joint venture with the New York Yankees is invaluable,” Lincoln Medical Center executive director Milton Nunez said. “It is imperative to make immunizations available to as many children as possible.”

A break for Yanks: Cano’s hand not broken

The Yankees got good news on the medical front for a change. X-rays on Robinson Cano’s left hand that was struck by a pitch from J.A. Happ in the first inning Tuesday night were negative.

Cano has a nasty bruise and will likely miss several games, but fortunately he did not suffer the fate of teammates Curtis Granderson and Jayson Nix, both of whom sustained fractures when hit by pitches that kept them on the 15-day disabled list for extended periods.

The Yankees are a bit skinny in the middle infield these days. Eduardo Nunez took over for Cano and did a nice job at a position with which he is not all that familiar. He took part in a couple of double plays and looked like he had been playing second base all his life.

Soriano joins 400 Home Run Club

Two pitches, two home runs. How’s that for efficiency?

That is what Alfonso Soriano did in his first two at-bats Tuesday night at Rogers Centre. Sori’s first bomb was just that, a Jose Canseco-like towering drive right down the line. It scored Derek Jeter, who had singled in a run, and Robinson Cano, who was hit by a pitch, to give the Yankees and Andy Pettitte a 4-0 lead right off the bat.

At the end of the inning, Cano came out of the game and was replaced at second base by Eduardo Nunez. Here is where the Yankees miss someone like Jayson Nix, who is on the disabled list because of a fractured left hand that was also the result of being hit by a pitch. Blue Jays lefthander J.A. Happ was the same pitcher who broke Curtis Granderson’s left wrist with a wayward pitch in the first exhibition game of spring training.

Cano had been one of the constants for the Yankees this year. He had played much of the season without his regular infield partners – first baseman Mark Teixeira, third baseman Alex Rodriguez and shortstop Derek Jeter as well as A-Rod’s replacement at third, Kevin Youkilis, and Jeter’s replacement at shortstop, Nunez. Second base was the only position unaffected by injuries this year. In addition to the other infield spots, the Yankees also lost to the DL pitchers Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, Joba Chamberlain and David Phelps; catcher Francisco Cervelli and outfielders Granderson and Zoilo Almonte.

So the Yankees are keeping their fingers crossed about Cano and hope he can cross the fingers on that left hand.

Soriano paid Happ back in the third inning by driving a first-pitch slider off the back side of the left field fence for his second home run of the game and the 400th homer of his career. Soriano became the 51st player to enter the 400 Home Run Club. Ahead of him on the all-time list in 50th place is Duke Snider with 407.

Blue Jays no patsies this time

So the Blue Jays did not roll over and play dead for a change. That was a tough wake-up call for the Yankees who lost ground in the race for a postseason berth. The Yankees have had their way with the Jays this year but not Monday night as Toronto emerged victorious against the Yanks for the first time since April 21 and only the second time in 14 meetings.

R.A. Dickey, who lost his previous two starts against the Yankees this year, had the upper hand this time with 6 1/3 sound innings. The first-inning run he yielded was not earned due to a passed ball by catcher Josh Thole. The other run Dickey allowed, in the fifth, was quite earned since it came on Alex Rodriguez’s 650th career home run.

Brett Gardner also reached a milestone in the fifth inning with a two-out single that was the 500th hit of his major-league career. The Yankees did not have much else to celebrate offensively. The Jays bullpen shut down the Yanks for 2 2/3 innings with Casey Janssen notching his 24th save.

Derek Jeter returned to the lineup but had a quiet night going 0-for-3 with a walk.

Phil Hughes watched his record fall to an unsightly 4-13 with a 4.91 ERA as he failed to pitch the minimum number of innings – five – to qualify for a winning decision for the 10th time in 25 starts this year. Hughes gave up the 1-0 lead the Yankees gave him in the first two innings later and was knocked out in a three-run Toronto fifth that was fueled in part by a rare error from 10-time Gold Glove winner Ichiro Suzuki.

Hughes nearly worked out a second-inning jam, but Kevin Pillar poked a soft single to center field that tied the score. A leadoff walk to Jose Reyes in the third was asking for trouble. Edwin Encarnacion singled sharply to left to score Reyes, who had advanced to second on a bunt, that gave the Blue Jays the lead.

A-Rod’s homer got the Yanks even again, but the game got away from Hughes in the fifth. He gave up a double to Reyes with one out and a single to Ryan Goins. Reyes was held at third, which gave Hughes a chance to get out of the inning without a run scoring. Encarnacion lifted a fly ball to right field that was deep enough to score Reyes but was more damaging when Ichiro dropped the ball while leaping on the warning track.

Instead of two outs and a runner on first, the Blue Jays had a run in, one out and runners on first and third. Adam Lind doubled down the right field line to score Goins and after an intentional walk to Brett Lawrie loaded the bases Moises Sierra delivered another run with a sacrifice fly.

Lefthander David Huff took over at that point and was one of the few highlights for the Yanks. He struck out Thole to put an end to the fifth and tacked on three more scoreless innings with four strikeouts. It was an important contribution because Huff kept manager Joe Girardi from having to use several relievers to complete a game in which his starter made an early exit.

Girardi said after the game that there were no plans to remove Hughes from the rotation despite the righthander’s troubles. Hughes is winless with a 5.64 ERA in his past nine starts since July 2 and is 1-9 with a 5.32 ERA over his past 13 starts.

With the Athletics winning at Detroit, the Yankees fell 4 ½ games behind for the second wild-card berth.