Results tagged ‘ AL East ’

No more fiddling with watches for Yanks

Welcome back to the Eastern time zone, Yankees. When they touch ground in New York Sunday night, the Yankees will be in Eastern Daylight Time for the remainder of the regular season.

The 10-game swing through Minnesota, Texas and Chicago, all in the Central time zone, ended the Yankees’ season outside EDT territory as the schedule the rest of the way become an ally.

To begin with, they will play 34 of their final 58 games at Yankee Stadium where they have a 30-17 record, a .638 winning percentage. And when they do travel, the Yankees will stay in their home time zone.They had two more visits to Toronto, which has moved into second place, as well as stops in Cleveland, Atlanta, Boston, St. Petersburg, Baltimore and Citi Field for the second Subway Series against the Mets.

This is all good news in an era when the schedule increasingly forces clubs to arrive in opposing cities at the crack of dawn. The Yankees are finished with the West Coast and now the Mountain and Central time zones as well.

They finished off the 6-4 trip in a big way with a runaway, 12-3 victory over the White Sox for the Yanks’ eight straight non-losing series. Dividing the four-game set at Arlington, Texas, has been the only series split for the Yankees during this stretch.

Concern over starting pitching due to the disabling of Michael Pineda and a couple of wayward outings by CC Sabathia was the one negative aspect of the trip, but it ended with an encouraging effort from Ivan Nova, who had experienced arm fatigue in his previous start, which is not uncommon for a pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery.

Nova showed off tantalizing breaking balls to go with his fastball Sunday and held Chicago to one run, five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in six innings. The righthander could work free and easy, thanks to a Yankees offense that pounded White Sox ace Jeff Samardzja for nine runs and eight hits, including two home runs, in 4 2/3 innings.

Jacoby Ellsbury led off the game with a homer. The second long ball came from Mark Teixeira leading off the Yanks’ three-run fifth, the inning after they put up a five-spot against Samardzja.

It was another strong game from the bottom of the batting order as the 7-through-9 hitters — Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew, plus pinch hitter John Ryan Murphy — combined to go 7-for-14 (.500) with eight runs, two doubles, one triple and six RBI. At the top of the order, Ellsbury and Brett Gardner teamed up for five RBI.

Drew came within a home run of hitting for the cycle. His 3-for-5 game got his season batting average finally nudging .200 at .199. He started the trip batting .180 but added 19 points by going 10-for-29 (.345) with three runs, one double, one triple, one home run and six RBI.

It was a great trip offensively all around for the infielders. Teixeira increased his American League Most Valuable Player Award candidacy by batting .310 with nine runs, two doubles, five home runs and nine RBI in 42 at-bats.

Gregorius batted .438 with eight runs, a triple, a homer and 12 RBI in 32 at-bats in raising his season batting average from .241 to .260. The shortstop has 11 RBI in his past seven games.

Headley, who is on an 11-game hitting streak, was an astounding 16-for-37 (.593) on the trip with 11 runs, two doubles, one home run and eight RBI and watched his batting average hike 30 points to .276.

In nine games on the trip, Alex Rodriguez batted .333 with 10 runs, two doubles, four home runs, seven RBI and eight walks in 33 at-bats.

The Yankees averaged 7.8 runs per game in outscoring their opponents, 78-53. They gained only a half-game in the AL East standings — to a six-game spread over the Blue Jays — but took time off the race, 10 big days, and now no longer have to set the clock back, at least not until postseason play, their ultimate goal.

Tattered pen can’t prevent Bosox onslaught

Now you know why it was so important for the Yankees to get quality starts from Ivan Nova and Andy Pettitte in the first two games of the four-game series against the Red Sox. The Yankees were relying on the back end of the bullpen to get them through the third game. After Nova had his briefest outing (four innings) Thursday night and Pettitte turned an 8-3 lead over to the bullpen Friday night with the relievers blowing both games, the Yankees had to turn to a trio of late-season Triple A call-ups to navigate through one of the toughest lineups in the league.

The result naturally was disastrous. David Huff, who had pitched well in relief since Aug. 16 (two earned runs in 16 innings) termed his 3 1/3-inning outing Saturday “terrible.” No one would dispute it. He hit just about every bat in the Boston order and allowed nine earned runs and eight hits, including two home runs. Jim Miller, summoned after Scranton’s season was over, could not stem the tide as the Red Sox dusted him off for three runs and three hits, one a home run, in 1 1/3 innings. Only Brett Marshall, who entered the game with the Yankees down 12-3 in the fifth, was the one bright light with 4 1/3 serviceable innings in which he yielded one run and three hits.

The Yankees’ offense put up a good fight in the 13-9 loss. Their 12 hits were spread among nine players. They cut the deficit to three runs at one point. The problem was that point was the eighth inning. When Mike Napoli took Marshall deep in the ninth, somehow it seemed to shut the door. Napoli, who has feasted off Yankees pitching all year (.404, four doubles, seven home runs, 23 RBI in 12 games and 57 at-bats), is 7-for-12 (.583) with a double, three homers and eight RBI in this series.

The Red Sox came to town after slugging eight home runs in one game and have continued the power surge with eight homers in the series. Boston starter John Lackey, who has had the worst run support for an American League starting pitcher this year, could not seem to handle the burst of offense but ended up with the victory despite giving up seven runs in 5 1/3 innings.

The Yankees knew coming in that the bullpen is in tatters. David Robertson will be out another several days because of right shoulder tendinitis. Boone Logan has an inflamed left biceps that will shelve him for at least three days, and Shawn Kelley has been unavailable due to a strained right triceps.

On top of that, the Yankees lost shortstop Derek Jeter for who knows how long. Manager Joe Girardi pulled the captain when he saw him running tentatively on his left leg. Jeter also had trouble planting his surgical left ankle in the sixth and threw the ball past first baseman Lyle Overbay on an infield single by Jonny Gomes. DJ was sent for a CT scan, which the Yankees said was negative. Nevertheless, they sent the results to Charlotte, N.C., surgeon Dr. Robert Anderson, who performed the operation on Jeter’s ankle last October.

Let’s be honest, the Yankees were going to have a tough time trying to catch the first-place Red Sox in the AL East. The Bombers were eight games behind when the series began, but their spirits were high as they hoped to do their rivals some damage. The Red Sox have pushed the Yankees 11 games back in historic if somewhat dubious fashion. The Elias Sports Bureau reported that this is the first time in franchise history that the Yankees lost three games in a row when they scored at least seven runs in each game.

It has been clear for some time that the Yankees’ only path to the postseason is through a wild-card berth. Thanks to a current bumpy stretch by the Rays, the Yanks remain in contention there, but their losses to Boston have allowed the Orioles, Indians and even the Royals to encroach their space.

Considering the state of the bullpen, Hiroki Kuroda will have to be awfully good Sunday to avoid an embarrassing sweep at Yankee Stadium to the Red Sox.

Playoff atmopshere for Yankees-Red Sox

With the temperatures cooling down and the combatants representing the oldest rivalry in the American League, there was a postseason atmosphere Thursday night at Yankee Stadium as the Yankees and the Red Sox opened a four-game series. Boston held a 5 ½-game lead over the Rays in the AL East with the Yankees in third place eight games back.

A month ago, the Yankees were left for dead, and while a division title remains a tall order they have moved into serious contention for one of the wild-card berths as they trail Tampa Bay for the second entry by only 2 ½ games. The Rays were at Anaheim Thursday night.

The Yanks are 5-7 this season against Boston and have already surpassed their loss total to the Red Sox of last year. The Yankees have won 10 of the past 17 regular-season games between the club and 21 of the past 34. In 2012, the Yankees were 13-5 against Boston. It marked their first winning season against the Red Sox since 2007 (10-8).

At the Stadium, the Yankees have won six of their past 10 games and 10 of their past 18 between the teams and are 31-29 against the Red Sox at home since 2007. In 2012, the Yankees were 6-3 against Boston, their first winning home season series since 2009 (7-2).

Derek Jeter leads all active major leaguers with 264 games and 321hits against Boston and ranks second in runs (168) and RBI (124). The Elias Sports Bureau reports that Jeter’s 142 winning games in the regular season against the Red Sox are the most for any player who entered the majors since 1960.

Yankees batters were hit by four pitches in their Aug. 18 victory at Fenway Park. The victims were Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner, Jayson Nix and Robinson Cano. It was their most hit batters in a single game since April 15, 2000 at the Stadium against the Royals (Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Clay Bellinger twice). The Yankees were hit six times over the three-game Boston series, which matched the Yankees’ most hit by pitchers of any length against any team over the past 100 seasons. It also occurred June 7-9, 2011 at the Stadium against the Red Sox in three games; Sept. 4-8, 1945 at the Stadium against the Tigers in seven games and May 12-15, 1923 at Detroit in four games.

The Yankees have been hit with five or more pitches in 22 series all time, with seven of them coming at the hands of the Red Sox since 2000. According to Elias, the only time the Yankees have been hit with more pitches in a series was a five-game set June 20-24, 1913 at Washington in which a single-game team-record six Yankees got hit in the series opener by Senators pitchers.

Late rally propels Yanks to exhilarating victory

There was an impending disaster facing the Yankees for seven innings Tuesday night. They were actually in danger of losing to the White Sox at a time when the Yankees need to have the upper hand against the lower order of the American League if they intend to play in October.

Let’s be fair here. The White Sox are a different team with Chris Sale on the mound. He has pitched far better (2.97 ERA) than his 10-12 record would indicate. And against the Yankees, he is simply lights out (2-0, 1.05 ERA). Well, at least until the eighth inning Tuesday night. The Yanks finally put enough of a dent in his armor for White Sox manager Robin Ventura to turn to his bullpen.

Please send our old pal a thank you note.

After Derek Jeter singled and Robinson Cano doubled with one out against Sale, the Yankees jumped on three Chicago relief pitchers for a five-run rally that had even more impact than the eight-run inning they exhibited the day before. This late charge that turned a potential loss into an exhilarating, 6-4 victory and had the Yankee Stadium crowd of 33,215 sounding like the whole borough of the Bronx was in attendance.

Cano’s double off the left field auxiliary scoreboard came on a two-strike pitch from Sale. So did the single by Alfonso Soriano that got the Yankees to 4-3 and the single by Alex Rodriguez that kept the line moving, both off righthander Nate Jones (4-5).

Curtis Granderson greeted lefthander Donnie Veal with a single to center that tied the score. There was a temporary sigh when Mark Reynolds struck out, but another abrupt message to an incoming reliever was in store. Eduardo Nunez, who made one of the best defensive plays of the game, got the crowd roaring with a double down the left field line to break the tie and tack on an insurance run as well.

Mariano Rivera laced it up into a bow with his 40th save; a huge victory for the Yankees, who jumped back in front of the Orioles into third place in the AL East and climbed a half-game closer to the Rays, who took a five-game losing streak into their game against the Angels. This was a game that will resonate for the Yankees if they can complete their quest for a postseason berth that seemed in serious peril after their disappointing 2-4 trip through St. Petersburg, Fla., and Toronto a week ago.

The pitcher the Yankees have relied on the most this season is showing signs of wear, which is not unusual for someone his age. Hiroki Kuroda, 38, has clearly hit a wall. He was not terrible Tuesday night but not good enough to beat the beatable White Sox. His teammates got him off the hook to avoid what would have been his fourth straight loss, but they owed him as much.

For four innings, Kuroda matched Sale in a 1-1 game. The Chicago run in the first inning ended Kuroda’s 21 2/3 scoreless innings streak at the Stadium. The Yankees’ run in the second came on a double steal with Vernon Wells scoring from third base.

Then in the fifth, Kuroda began to crack. He gave up a leadoff single to Alejandro De Aza and walked Gordon Beckham in an 11-pitch at-bat. Alexi Ramirez somehow got around on a 94-mph sinker and hit a hard grounder down the left field line. Soriano, who has played well in left field since coming to the Yankees, couldn’t stop the ball before it got to the corner and rolled past him as Ramirez legged out a two-run triple.

Kuroda and his infielders kept the inning from being worse. Dunn couldn’t get the ball past a tight infield and grounded out to Cano, who checked Ramirez at third. Nunez at shortstop went one better by gloving a liner by Paul Konerko and firing to Rodriguez at third base to double-off Ramirez.

Okay, 3-1 in the fifth is not the end of the world, but the Yankees couldn’t fire back right away. They failed to capitalize on Nunez’s leadoff double in the bottom of the fifth and stranded him at second base. In the seventh came that rarity when a player hit a foul home run and in the same at-bat hits a fair home run. De Aza’s 15th jack of the year made it 4-1 and ended Kuroda’s outing.

But not the game; oh, no, far from it.

After the game, Yankees manager Joe Girardi announced that Phil Hughes and his 4-13 record would go to the bullpen and that David Huff, who is 2-0 with an ERA of 0.60 over his past 15 innings, will go into the rotation and start during the upcoming four-game series with the Red Sox.

Sabathia pays the ‘Price’ against Rays

CC Sabathia has had a nasty habit this season of giving up leads. That virus struck him again Saturday night at Tropicana Field at a time the Yankees could least afford it. This was a game that fit the must-win category with Boston and Oakland both winning and the Yanks trying to stretch their winning series streak to five. Instead, they will take the field Sunday in an attempt salvage one game in the three-game set against the first-place Rays.

Paired against fellow former American League Cy Young Award winner David Price for the ninth time, Sabathia actually had the upper hand for five innings. He held the Rays to one hit, a two-out double by longtime nemesis Evan Longoria in the first inning, and a walk to that point. CC also made an outstanding defensive play to get the last out of the third inning by fielding a chopper with his back to the plate and firing a laser beam to first base.

The Yankees gave Sabathia a 2-0 lead in the fifth by using three singles and a walk to put a dent in Price. After that, however, the Yanks had only one more base runner – Curtis Granderson with a one-out double in the seventh – so their offense was standing still as the Rays made their move.

Then came the sixth inning and everything fell apart for the big guy. Sam Fuld, the 9-hole hitter barely batting over .200, led off with a single through the middle. Sabathia temporarily lost the plate by walking Desmond Jennings on four pitches and falling behind 2-0 in the count to Ben Zobrist, who later in the at-bat drilled a 3-1 fastball to left-center for a two-run double. CC then had to deal with Longoria, who singled home Zobrist to give the Rays the lead. Longoria raised his career average against Sabathia to .396 with six doubles and six home runs.

“I lost my command,” Sabathia told reporters. “I tried to nibble, and it cost us the game. One bad inning; I felt like I couldn’t stop the bleeding.”

Sabathia departed in the seventh after allowing yet another hit to Fuld with one out. Preston Claiborne prevented Fuld from scoring but the next inning had no more success against Longoria than did Sabathia. The Rays third baseman crushed a 1-2 slider to center field for his 27th home run that gave Fernando Rodney (30th save) some insurance in the ninth as he closed it out for his 30th save in 37 tries.

Price (8-5) is now 6-1 in head-to-head matchups against Sabathia with the Rays winning seven of the nine games. The lefthander missed 44 games while on the 15-day disabled list because of a left triceps strain. Since returning from the DL July 2, Price is 7-1 with a 1.97 ERA. He seemed to lost faith in his fastball in the fifth inning and was touched for singles by Alex Rodriguez and Vernon Wells off hanging sliders. Mark Reynolds foiled Rays manager Joe Maddon’s overshift with a single to the right side to load the bases. The Yankees’ runs came on a walk to Austin Romine and an infield out by Ichiro Suzuki.

The Rays maintained their percentage-points edge over the Red Sox for the top spot in the AL East. Meanwhile, the Yankees dropped seven games out of first place in the division race and 4 ½ games behind the Athletics for the second wild-card berth.

Yanks go silently, like their bats

Not to be flippant about it, but the Yankees saved their worst for last. Their season ended with a thud Thursday as Detroit completed a four-game sweep of the American League Championship Series with a convincing 8-1 victory. It marked the second consecutive season that the Tigers eliminated the Yankees from the postseason, becoming the first team to do that since the New York Giants in the World Series of 1921 and 1922. A year later, the Yankees won the first of their 27 championships, so maybe this will be a good omen.

Nothing feels good to the Yankees now. Getting swept in a postseason series is something the franchise is not used to. It had not happened to the Yankees since the 1980 ALCS when they lost in three games to the Royals back when the series was still a best-of-5. The Yankees had played 36 postseason series without getting swept before Thursday.

It is not at all that difficult to analyze what went wrong for the Yankees. They simply did not hit. They scored in only three of the 39 innings of the series and only six runs total. They never had the lead for a single inning in the series, something that happened to them only once before, in the 1963 World Series when they were swept by the Dodgers.

Actually, the Yankees’ offense was pretty scarce throughout the postseason, but they were picked up by their pitching staff. The remarkable work of the rotation also ended Thursday as CC Sabathia, who got the Yanks into the ALCS with a complete-game triumph over the Orioles in Game 5 of the AL Division Series, came apart.

But what the Yankees needed more than a big game from CC Thursday was a big game from the lineup. Nick Swisher came up with his first run-scoring hit with a runner in scoring position in this postseason with a double in the sixth inning, but that was it as the team that set a franchise record with 245 home runs this year continued to falter in the postseason. A team that averaged 1.5 home runs per game during the regular season had only seven home runs in nine postseason games.

Raul Ibanez supplied most of the muscle with three dramatic home runs, but the Yankees got no homers from their usual sluggers – Swisher, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano. It was not just a power outage, either. The Yankees’ team batting average was .157 in the ALCS and .188 overall in the postseason.

Ibanez’s heroics pinch hitting for Rodriguez in Game 4 of the ALDS unfortunately created a media circus around A-Rod, who had been rendered helpless against right-handed pitching in postseason play (0-for-18 with 12 strikeouts) and was benched in the final game of the ALDS and the last two games of the ALCS. Rodriguez has taken the blunt of the blame for the Yanks’ ouster, which is unfair.

He was part of the problem but by no means all of it. Eric Chavez, who replaced Rodriguez at third base, was hitless in 16 at-bats and made two costly errors in the ALCS. Curtis Granderson, who hit 43 home runs during the regular season, homered in Game 5 of the ALDS but was 0-for-11 in the ALCS. He had only two hits other than the home runs in 30 postseason at-bats and struck out 16 times. Swisher hit .167 with 10 strikeouts.

Then there was the strange case of Cano, who endured one of the cruelest postseasons for a New York player that brought to mind the struggles of Yankees right fielder Dave Winfield (1-for-22 in the 1981 World Series) and Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges (0-for-21 in the 1952 World Series).

Cano entered the postseason as the hottest hitter in baseball with a streak of nine multi-hit games in which he went 24-for-39, a .615 tear. The All-Star second baseman managed only three hits in 40 postseason at-bats (.075), including 1-for-18 (.056) against Detroit pitching. Cano went 29 at-bats without a hit over one stretch, the longest postseason drought in club history, which covers a lot of ground. This was the Yankees’ 51st postseason covering 73 series.

As it turned out, 2012 was a season in which the Yankees peaked too soon. They were running away with the AL East by mid-July with a double-digit lead and then had to fight and claw to finish in first place at season’s end. The same Baltimore team that hounded them in the regular season pushed them to the full five games of the ALDS. A talented Detroit staff headed by the game’s most talent pitcher, Justin Verlander, kept the Yankees’ bat silenced.

Now silence is all there is left of the Yankees’ season.

Road to AL pennant goes through Texas

The Yankees got their first look the past three nights at the team that won the American League pennant the past two years and they had to conclude that the road to the 2012 World Series will go through Texas.

This was the only trip to Texas this year for the Yankees, who won’t face the Rangers until a four-game series at Yankee Stadium in mid-August. By then, Lord knows how far Texas will be leading the AL West. With Wednesday night’s 7-3 victory over the Yankees, the Rangers kept their five-game lead in the division and extended their spread to 8 ½ games over the last-place Angels, who had been expected to be the main threats against Texas out west.

The Yankees got good starts from CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda in splitting the first two games at Rangers Ballpark In Arlington, but Phil Hughes couldn’t survive the third inning in the finale and put his club in an early hole in a game in which the Rangers were using five relievers to get through the game.

David Phelps, who has been mentioned as a possible starter down the road, has his first rough outing by allowing three runs and five hits, two of which were long home runs by Mike Napoli and Mitch Moreland. Clay Rapada, Cody Eppley, Boone Logan and Rafael Soriano handled the Rangers quite well, but the offense could not overcome the early deficit.

It is far too early to go overboard about the standings, but the Yankees fell out of a first-place tie in the AL East that is no between the Blue Jays, which is no surprise, and the Orioles, which is. Except for Raul Ibanez, who drove in two runs with his third home run and a sacrifice fly, and Derek Jeter, who ran his hitting streak to 15 games with two more hits and is batting .420, the Yankees’ bats were mostly mute and 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

It doesn’t get easier for the Yankees, who will come home to face the Detroit team that ousted them from the playoffs last year. However, the Tigers have lost five of their past six games and find themselves in a dogfight in the AL Central with the Indians and White Sox.

Cano’s blow provides Mo needed cushion

If the Yankees sent any kind of message to the Angels in taking two of three games at Yankee Stadium this week, it was this: if you guys want to get to postseason play, you better win your division.

The Yankees increased their lead over the Los Angeles Anaheims to eight games in the wild-card race. The Angels are much closer to first place in the American League West where they trail the Rangers by two games. The Yanks are one game behind the Red Sox in the AL East.

The Angels made the mistake of giving the Yankees an extra out in the seventh inning because of an error by second baseman Maicer Izturis, who bobbled a ground ball by Mark Teixeira that should have been the third out. Instead, it loaded the bases for the Yankees, who gleefully watched Robinson Cano clear them with a grand slam against Scott Downs.

Cano was on fire in the series. Thursday was his second straight three-hit game. Wednesday night, he was a single shy of hitting for the cycle. Cano had 7-for-12 (.583) with a double, a triple, two home runs and six RBI in the series. The All-Star second baseman is back over .300 at .303 with 20 home runs and 81 RBI. He also made one of his patented charging plays with a crossover throw to nail Torii Hunter at first base to end the Angels fifth.

Cano’s salami made a winner of Rafael Soriano, who has been nearly perfect since coming off the disabled list. He finally gave up a hit Thursday in his sixth inning since returning from a right elbow injury. The other two Yankees’ runs were courtesy of Curtis Granderson, who homered for the fourth time in three games and raised his season total to 32 to tie Teixeira for the club lead.

The grand slam by Cano made the score 6-2, but that was not the final. Another “blip,” as Yankees manager Joe Girardi has been calling the recent relief work of the struggling Mariano Rivera, turned it into a one-run game. Russell Branyan came off the bench with two on in the ninth and clubbed a fat cutter from Mo deep into the right field stands for a home run, his eight in 47 career at-bats at the Stadium, which got the Angels to 6-5. Rivera settled down after that and got the final two outs for his 30th save. This is the 14th consecutive season that Mo has saved at least 30 games, tying the major-league mark of Trevor Hoffman, the only closer with more career saves. Rivera now trails Hoffman, who retired this year, by 11.

Normally, you might say it would be a lock for Rivera to overtake Hoffman as the all-time saves leader but not the way he has pitched this week. He suffered a blown save Sunday night at Boston and gave up a game-winning home run to former teammate Bobby Abreu Tuesday night. Over his past three appearances, Rivera has allowed four runs, all earned, and four hits, including two home runs, with no strikeouts while his ERA has swelled from 1.70 to 2.40.

“I’ll get concerned if it happens for a month,” Girardi said after the game.

Rivera has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt that he can right himself, but at 41 he may finally be showing signs of age. Even the other night, Girardi said that when he caught Rivera in the 1990s his cut fastball ranged from 94 to 98 mph and that now it is more like 90 to 93. Four to five miles is a big difference. One thing I have noticed is that hitters seem to be more aggressive against Rivera, who is always around the plate. For years, he took advantage of the fact that opposing hitters whose teams were trailing in the ninth would usually take a strike. Mo has spent his whole career getting ahead 0-1 on opposing hitters. Now, more and more hitters are taking the approach Branyan did Thursday.

Nevertheless, it was a positive game for the Yankees, who got another good start from the remarkable comeback man Bartolo Colon, who pitched six innings and gave up two runs and five hits with two walks and five strikeouts. Derek Jeter reached base four times with three singles and a walk. Since coming off the DL July 4, the Captain is batting .312 with eight doubles, one triple, two home runs and 21 RBI in 31 games and 125 at-bats.

It was a good day for the Yankees, and they have had a lot of them. They are playing .800 ball in the daytime with a 32-8 record.

Nova solidifies rotation spot

Yankees manager Joe Girardi had said before Wednesday night’s game that Ivan Nova was not pitching for his spot in the rotation. “He has been one of our best five guys,” Girardi said. “The last three months, especially, he has been really, really good for us.”

So there you have it. Nova is one of the five best starters, so he is going nowhere but to his next start. Girardi is going with a six-man rotation these days but will return to a five-man shortly, so one of the pitchers will be the odd man out, but it won’t be Nova.

After being basically guaranteed a spot in the Yankees’ crowded rotation, Nova went out and pitched another beauty. A home run by Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos was the only smear on Nova’s record until the seventh inning when he gave up two singles and two walks without retiring a batter.

Rafael Soriano did a nice job cleaning up Nova’s mess and leaving him in position for a winning decision, which has been a regular occurrence for the righthander who has not lost since June 3. Nova is riding a personal seven-game winning streak during which he has pitched to a 3.10 ERA in 52 1/3 innings and pushed his season mark to 11-4 with a 3.85 ERA that is sure to attract some attention to voters for the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award in the American League.

Nova did not strike out a batter in the 9-3 victory over the Angels but essentially gave Yankees outfielders the night off. Of the 18 outs Nova registered, 16 came in the infield. The busiest fielder was Mark Teixeira, who had 12 putouts and one assist at first base. Nova had two putouts and two assists himself.

The Yankees beat a pitcher making his major league debut for the first time in seven starts since 2004 in treating Angels rookie Garrett Richards harshly. Curtis Granderson connected off him twice for home runs. Robinson Cano got three-quarters of the cycle, falling a single short. His 19th home run of the season, off Joel Pineiro, also scored Granderson, who had walked and has now touched the plate 104 times this season.

It all combined for the Yankees to end a three-game losing streak and push the Angels back to seven games back in the wild-card race with a shot at picking up ground in the AL East against the Red Sox.

No homers, but Grandy outpoints Bautista

The Yankees-Blue Jays series that ended Wednesday at Yankee Stadium offered a duel between the leading home run hitters in the American League. When Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista hit a long home run to left field in his first at-bat Monday night, he seemed to be throwing down a gauntlet to Curtis Granderson.

The Yankees center fielder picked it up and threw it right back at Bautista. Granderson did not add to his home run total of 16 – three behind Bautista – but he clearly had the better series of the two.

Granderson was on base 10 times and scored six runs in the three games as the Yankees ended the 4-2 homestand on a high note by taking two of three from the Blue Jays, which was more important than taking two of three from the Mets because Toronto is in the same division as the Yanks and play for the same prize, an AL East title or at the least a playoff berth.

When the series began, Granderson was all deferential to Bautista saying that he did not belong in the same sentence because he was not really a power hitter, certainly not one to match the guy who swatted 54 home runs in 2010.

“I’m always trying to drive the ball, but I never go up there looking for a home run” Granderson said. “Whenever I have done that, from high school to now, it has never been a successful thing for me.”

Since the middle of last August when he revamped his swing, Granderson has hit 30 home runs, more than any other player in the major leagues other than Bautista, who has 37 over that span. This week’s showdown was won by Bautista in terms of home runs only, one to zero, but in the other areas of the game, Granderson won hands down.

This is not to say that Bautista is a one-dimensional player. He not only leads the league in home runs but also runs, total bases, walks, slugging and on-base percentage and is batting .342. His home run was only one of two hits he had in 10 at-bats in the series. Bautista walked twice, was hit by a pitch and scored two runs.

Now look at Granderson’s series: 6-for-11 (.545) with three doubles, two RBI, six runs, three walks, one hit by pitch and one stolen base. He was in the middle of the come-from-behind victory Tuesday night, the most exciting game of the season, with four hits and banged out two more doubles in Wednesday’s 7-3 victory to raise his batting average to .280.

In the three games, Granderson pretty much fulfilled the scouting report he delivered on himself at the start of the series: “A little bit of everything, you know, gets hits, can drive the baseball, can potentially hit the ball out of the ballpark.”

Take notice that he put the home run hitting last. He has hit as many as 30 home runs in a season (2009) and last year, his first with the Yankees, Granderson hit 24. He is on a pace to hit 55 this year, but don’t talk to him about paces.

“I remember when I got traded here from Detroit, people were saying I might hit 40 home runs playing half a season at Yankee Stadium since I had 30 playing half a season at Comerica Park.” Granderson said. “I didn’t take that seriously. When I hit a home run at Fenway Park in my first game with the Yankees, a friend of mine said, ‘All right; you’re on pace for 162.’ People throw numbers out that I’ve never come close to.”

Just the same, Granderson keeps throwing out big numbers.