By RICK FREEMAN
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) _ With two outs, a runner on first, and a two-strike count on Ben Zobrist, Ivan Nova knew he had a way out of the seventh inning.
Two innings earlier, he had Zobrist in the same count _ and threw him a curveball down and in for an easy swinging strikeout. So catcher Chris Stewart called for the curve again.
This time, Nova held onto the ball a fraction of a second too long, and his pitch hit Zobrist in the foot. Instead of getting out of the inning, Nova was out of the game. The runners on first and second were his, both because Nova hit them with pitches.
James Loney’s single off Boone Logan scored them both and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the New York Yankees 3-1 on Sunday, spoiling what had been a nice outing for Nova in his return to the major leagues.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he didn’t know if Nova would be sent back to Triple-A. The Yankees might not need another starter for a while, but Nova probably didn’t hurt his cause.
“You see the way he pitched,” Girardi said. “He made it real hard.”
Nova (2-2) left with two outs in the seventh after he hit Desmond Jennings and Zobrist. Shawn Kelley walked Evan Longoria to load the bases, and Boone Logan got to two strikes on Loney before the Rays first baseman lined a sharp shot up the middle.
He had seven strikeouts in 6 2-3 innings, allowing seven hits and three walks _ along with the two hit batters.
“I don’t feel pressure. I’m excited but I don’t feel pressure because I know what I can do,” Nova said. “I try to do my best, try to stay here.”
His strikeout of Zobrist looked like a big moment at the time. Nova’s curveball was good enough that Stewart felt comfortable going back to it, even though it would be an obvious choice.
“That’s his out pitch, so we were trying to go with it,” Stewart said. “We got the two strikes and tried to get the swing and miss there. He held on too long and forced it down to his foot. Other than that, he did pretty good.
“He could have avoided hitting Desmond, too, but what can you do? He did a really good job for us and hopefully takes that with him.”
Chris Archer pitched six innings of one-run ball for his first win in three starts since June 7, and the Rays earned a split of the four-game series in the Bronx after the Yankees celebrated their 67th Old-Timers’ Day.
Fernando Rodney struck out the side in the ninth for his 15th save in 20 chances.
Archer (2-3) struck out four, allowed six hits, with a walk and a hit batter.
Zobrist got the Rays on the board with an RBI single in the first as Nova labored. Robinson Cano answered with a sacrifice fly caught on the warning track in the bottom half.
After Nova settled down, he looked hard to hit until he unraveled just enough in the seventh.
“First thing is, his fastball was up a little bit. Then he kept it down most of the day and you saw a lot of swings and misses on it,” Girardi said. “I thought his curveball was very good today, as well. He even threw some changeups and got some swings and misses, So I was very pleased with what I saw.”
NOTES: Nova had been 4-0 in five career starts against Tampa Bay at Yankee Stadium. He had a 1.83 ERA in 34 1-3 innings against the Rays in the Bronx, and was 6-1 with a 2.98 ERA against them overall. … Loney finished with three hits and an intentional walk after hitting into a double play in the first inning. . With the Old-Timers lined up on the basepaths after being introduced, Yogi Berra was welcomed last. The 88-year-old Berra was brought out on a golf cart festooned with eight miniature American flags, and received a warm cheer from the fans and players on hand. Other highlights included pitcher Orlando Hernandez on the mound with his high socks and leg kick, Lou Piniella taking a couple big cuts before singling to center, David Wells throwing theatrically behind the head of Paul O’Neill at the plate, and Derek Jeter laughing in the dugout, surrounded by the stars of past Yankees teams … The Yankees are off Monday before hosting Texas for three games starting Tuesday night.