June 6, 2012, Bronx, N.Y. – You had to admire the way Alex Cobb of the Rays and Ivan Nova of the Yanks went about their work Wednesday night. Nova came right at Tampa batters, with 14 first-pitch strikes to the first 18 Rays, and throwing 69 of his 103 pitches for strikes. Cobb performed similarly, finding the zone on nine of 12 first pitches to start, and 16 of 26 overall; his strikes/balls ratio was 68/37.
Cobb gave up just two hits and one walk in seven innings, facing just two more than the minimum 21 batters because Alex Rodriguez, on via the free pass in the home fourth, was caught off first base on a short wild pitch. This could have been a big play, because Robinson Cano lined the next pitch into the Yankee bullpen. As it turned out, however, it simply doubled rather than tripled the Yankee 1-0 lead, as the other hit Cobb surrendered was a Mark Teixeira bomb to right in the second inning.
The failure of A-Rod to score on Cano’s laser didn’t hurt the Yanks for one reason: Nova was too sharp for it to matter. Desmond Jennings lined Ivan’s second pitch of the night past Cano for a single, something that could have been a concern because the Yankee righthander has been giving up hits in bunches this year. But not Wednesday night. Tampa would not reach him for another safety until Sean Rodriguez doubled with one down in the eighth. Jennings had been immediately removed on a double play grounder, and a Wil Rhymes hit by pitch and Matt Joyce walk accounted for the only other baserunners before Rodriguez’s two-bagger.
Mixing a mid-nineties fastball that peaked at 94 with an assortment of sliders and curve balls seven to 14 miles per hour slower, Nova had the Rays pounding gounders all night, collecting two, then two, one, one, two, one, two, and two ground-ball outs in innings one through eight. He struck out five and got a few fly balls, but although he coaxed nine swings and misses in eight frames, he beat the Rays by hitting their bats, not missing them.
The same could have been said for Cobb, who got 11 ground-ball outs of his own but, as has become back page fodder in a negative way, the Yanks have a tendency to send fly balls over fences, something that had the young Tampa righty at a disadvantage all night. He kept up his good work in the eighth too, but by then he had run out of luck, as Raul Ibanez snuck one grounder past first baseman Carlos Pena’s right side for one base, and Nick Swisher got one by him on his left for two sacks and a run, increasing the Yankee lead to 3-0. Third baseman Eric Chavez followed with the least likely outcome of all, delivering an rbi double the first time all game the Yanks had a man in scoring position, driving Cobb from the game and putting the home team up 4-0.
Nova answered the bell for the ninth inning, three days after Phil Hughes pitched the only Yankee complete game of the season, but the Rays finally rallied, driving Ivan from the game with back-to-back leadoff triples for a 4-1 score. But new Yankee closer Rafael Soriano was superb in Nova’s stead, keeping B.J. Upton moored at third while closing out the game, with ex-Yank Hideki Matsui falling short in an attempt at a two-run homer to right center to end it.
Winners of three straight, the Yanks have allowed but two runs in the last 27 innings, 25.3 of which were pitched by starters. While impressive, the mound work was imperative as well. Five Yankee players went hitless Tuesday, and four more this night. The fourth- through eighth-place batters each had just one hit good for all the offense, with Tex, Cano, and Swisher both driving in a run and scoring one. Special mention goes to Teixeira, because his homer was the first score, which may have calmed Nova down; because he made a diving stop on a Ben Zobrist hot shot after Joyce’s walk in the fourth; and because he saved Chavez an error by stretching into foul territory to grab his throw on a Rodriguez grounder in the fifth. Mark plays a fine first base, something we have become accustomed to in the Bronx, worth mentioning on this, the 33rd anniversary of the day the Yanks found Don Mattingly buried in the 19th round of the 1979 free agent draft.
This week, one-time Saturday Night Live alum Dana Carvey celebrates his 57th birthday. Known for his part in the Wayne’s World sketches and films back then, and Funny or Die videos and live appearances today, one of Dana’s most memorable characters back in the day was the Church Lady. With Ivan Nova contributing to a growing string of effective Yankee starts this night, he nailed down his seventh win and did not allow a second hit until the eighth inning.
Isn’t That Special?