NEW YORK (AP) _ Some critical reinforcements are still on the
way for the Yankees. With the AL East race up for grabs, New York
would be thrilled if those players are as sharp as Ivan Nova when
they get back.

Nova was downright nasty in his return from a shoulder injury
and New York got back-to-back home runs from Curtis Granderson and
Eduardo Nunez in a 5-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday.

“Even though he hadn’t pitched a lot, you could see where his
endurance level was, where his velocity was, the deception on his
pitches,” Granderson said. “He did an excellent job for us.”

Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez each had an RBI single for the
Yankees, who began the day tied with Baltimore atop the division
standings. The Orioles were scheduled to play later in Oakland.

Evan Longoria homered for the third-place Rays, who fell four
games behind New York with 17 to play.

“We don’t have a lot of time,” Longoria said.

One day after Yankees ace CC Sabathia lost his third straight
decision, Nova outpitched James Shields and gave New York’s
rotation a nice boost. David Robertson worked a perfect eighth and
Rafael Soriano got three outs for his 39th save in 42 attempts.

With two on in the ninth, Soriano fanned pinch-hitter Elliot
Johnson for the final out– assuring the Yankees (82-63) their 20th
consecutive winning season.

Asked what he liked about Nova’s performance, Yankees manager
Joe Girardi replied: “Everything.”

“We’ve seen him do it before. We really didn’t expect to get
him into the seventh,” Girardi said. “I was extremely impressed
with his stuff today and his command and what he did out there.”

Nova (12-7) missed a little more than three weeks with
inflammation in his right rotator cuff. Making his first start
since Aug. 21, he was charged with two runs and four hits in
six-plus innings.

“He’s good, man,” Tampa Bay’s Carlos Pena said. “That’s one
of the best curveballs in the game right now.”
Nova struck out eight and walked two, improving to 5-1 in eight
career starts against the Rays with his second win overall since
the All-Star break.

“I was just hoping that coming off of whatever was bothering
him, it would continue to be a problem, and it was not,” Rays
manager Joe Maddon said. “He likes our uniform, I know that. He’s
very comfortable when he sees our uniform.”

The 25-year-old right-hander was lifted after Jeff Keppinger’s
leadoff single in the seventh on his 85th pitch. He pointed toward
the stands, tapped his chest and doffed his cap as he walked off
the field to a grateful ovation from the crowd of 46,856.

Joba Chamberlain gave up a two-run single to pinch-hitter Luke
Scott before striking out Desmond Jennings to preserve a 4-3 lead.
Jennings whiffed three times in the leadoff spot.

“I was getting crazy the last couple of days because I didn’t
pitch,” Nova said. “I was waiting for this moment.”

Nova’s fine outing marked the latest of what the Yankees hope
will be several helpful September additions.

Rodriguez came back Sept. 3 from a broken hand and Andy Pettitte
is set to pitch Tuesday against Toronto in his return from a broken
ankle that’s sidelined him since June 28. First baseman Mark

Teixeira is trying to recover from a calf injury, but he’s still
sore and there’s no timetable for him to get back in the batting
cage, Girardi said.

Even speedy outfielder Brett Gardner (elbow surgery) is getting
close to coming off the disabled list, if only to provide a
potential pinch-runner.

Rodriguez added an RBI single in the eighth off Jake McGee after
center fielder B.J. Upton misplayed Robinson Cano’s deep liner into
a double. Before that, McGee had retired 22 consecutive batters, 13
on strikeouts.

Raul Ibanez drew a leadoff walk in the second and Granderson
sent his 39th homer into the lower seats in right field. Prior to
that swing, Granderson was 6 for 56 (.107) against Shields.

Nunez, who made a costly error at shortstop late in Friday
night’s 6-4 loss to the Rays, followed with a long drive to left
for his first major league homer since Sept. 21 last season _ also
off Shields. That made Nunez 7 for 14 with two home runs against
the right-hander.

Girardi gave Nunez a little pep talk after his error.

“He does some amazing things,” said Granderson, who called
Nunez one of the fastest players in the league. “The things that
he can do right now, he’s one of those valuable assets that we
definitely need.”

Coming off a two-hit shutout Sunday against Texas, Shields
(14-9) allowed four runs and six hits in 6 1-3 innings. “Big Game
James” has been anything but that at Yankee Stadium, where he is
0-6 in his last seven starts.

Maddon, however, said his hitters need to help. He likened Tampa
Bay’s recurring woes on offense to a country-western song.

“Between your dog and your pick-up, we came up short again,”
he said.

NOTES: Longoria (hamstring) was the DH again for Tampa Bay.
Keppinger started at 3B. … Shields was 6-1 with a 2.22 ERA in his
previous seven decisions. The right-hander dropped to 2-9 in 12
career starts at Yankee Stadium. He is 7-14 in 26 starts against
New York. … Alex Rodriguez singled for his 2,885th hit, passing
Zack Wheat for sole possession of 37th place on the career list.
… Girardi rested OF-1B Nick Swisher and C Russell Martin. Both
have struggled against Shields. Eric Chavez started at first base.
… New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh joined the Bleacher
Creatures for “roll call,” the Yankees said.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


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