Ironically, Tampa Bay got the night started with a hit as Desmond Jennings lined a single to right to lead off the game, but after striking out B.J. Upton, Nova erased the runner with an inning ending double play, and then proceeded to dominate the Rays’ lineup. He would allow just two more runners to reach base on one walk and one single while striking out an additional four batters through the first eight innings, holding Tampa Bay scoreless over that stretch.
For much of the night, he was followed closely by Tampa starter Alex Cobb. Much like Nova, Cobb did a good job of keeping opposing hitters off balance and keeping the ball on the ground, but unlike Nova he made a couple of big mistake pitches that the Yankees were able to capitalize on, as Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano each hit solo home runs in the second and fourth innings, respectively. Outside of that, however, Cobb kept pace with Nova and kept his lineup within striking distance of the lead throughout most of the night.
Things took a dramatic shift in the eighth inning, however, when Raul Ibanez hit a single through the right side of the infield to lead off the inning, after which Nick Swisher pulled a ball just inside the first base bag and down the rightfield line for a double that brought home pinch runner Dewayne Wise. Eric Chavez then added an RBI double of his own, and suddenly the Yankees had pushed their lead to 4-0 with no one out an an additional runner standing at second base. Unfortunately that would be all the Bombers would get, but with the way Nova was pitching to that point it certainly felt like more than enough.
And indeed, it was Nova who came out to start the ninth inning in pursuit of the complete game shutout, but back to back triples by Jennings and Upton ended those hopes early. After Upton just missed clearing the rightfield wall, Joe Girardi decided that it was time to go to the bullpen and, as Nova walked off of the mound to a standing ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd, Girardi called on his closer, Rafael Soriano, to finish off his former team. Soriano responded by retiring all three men he faced without allowing Upton to score from third, though he did manage to make things a little hairy by falling behind in the count to Hideki Matsui 3-0, before getting the 2009 World Series MVP to fly out to the warning track to end the game.
The win is the Yankees’ third in a row, and 10th in their last 13 games. It also moves them ahead of the Rays in the standings, but with Baltimore winning in Boston they’re still in second place in the East, a half game behind the division leading Orioles. With Nova’s strong outing, the Yankees have now had their starting pitcher go at least seven innings in nine of the 11 games they’ve played since the beginning of their last road trip in Oakland, a span in which the Yankees have gone 8-3.