Nova’s good start foiled by bullpen failure
When a team loses two of its top pitchers to injury as the Yankees have with CC Sabathia (strained left groin) and Andy Pettitte (fractured left fibula), there is a danger that the other pitchers might put too much pressure on themselves in an attempt to fill the void. There is one thing to stepping up and another thing to going overboard and falling out of your own rhythm.
Some pitchers fall victim to muscling up and overthrowing. The point has been well made by Yankees manager Joe Girardi that the team’s other starters need not try to play the hero role to offset the losses of Sabathia and Pettitte. Just be yourself, Girardi cautioned. Take care of your day to start, he said, and he will figure out what to do on the days CC and Andy were supposed to go.
It looked as if Ivan Nova followed that advice to the letter Thursday night. A strong start was needed by the Yankees after the dark news of Wednesday. Nova provided it. He pitched his game and no one else’s. The result should have been what it normally is when Nova takes the mound – a victory.
Instead, a rare bullpen breakdown resulted in a 4-3 loss to the White Sox. Eighth-inning relief work by Boone Logan and Cody Eppley was followed by dismal efforts from Clay Rapada and David Robertson.
Alex Rodriguez, who has drawn some concern about how few doubles he has this season, lined two of them, which was as many as he had combined over his previous 31 games. The second one was a big, two-out hit in the fifth inning that scored Curtis Granderson, who had singled, and negated the home run in the top half by Alejandro De Aza, who gave Nova a hard time of it all game with four hits.
Robinson Cano followed A-Rod’s double with a two-bagger of his own that gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead. As well as Nova was pitching, he was in a close game because the Yankees were being tamed to a degree by White Sox starter Dylan Alexrod, their fifth starter. The Yankees wasted a leadoff double by Rodriguez in the fourth and were hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position before Cano’s double in the fifth.
Nova departed the game in the eighth to a standing ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd of 44,041 after he caught Kevin Youkilis looking at a called third strike with De Aza on second. Youkilis, who was recently traded to Chicago from Boston, heard the usual onslaught of boos that used to ring his ears during his Red Sox days.
Logan came in to face left-handed swinging Adam Dunn and retired him on a fly to deep center that allowed De Aza to cross to third with two out. Girardi called on Eppley to face right-handed slugger Paul Konerko, who was frozen on a 1-2 slider. Mark Teixeira’s home run off lefthander Hector Santiago supplied an insurance run, but it guaranteed no dividend.
After Alex Rios led off the ninth with a single, Girardi went to the left-handed Rapada to pitch to left-handed batting A.J. Pierzynski. The White Sox catcher hit a dribbler right back to Rapada. It might have been a double play except Rapada threw wide to the left of second base and behind shortstop Derek Jeter covering. Instead of two outs and a runner on third base, the White Sox had none out and runners on first and third.
Not for long, though. Dayan Viciedo greeted Robertson with a three-run home run to left off a 1-0 fastball, which sunned the crowd not to mention the Yankees’ dugout.
Jeter singled in the seventh to catch another Hall of Famer on the all-time hits list. This time it was one of his idols, Cal Ripken Jr., for a 13th place tie at 3,184. Jeter’s next at-bat was in the ninth with two out and the potential tying run at first base. Passing Ripken was not on his mind as much as getting that runner home or at least keeping the rally going. Jeter’s inside-out swing produced a line drive that teasingly had the crowd on its feet only to watch Rios catch the ball in front of the wall.