BALTIMORE - Alex Rodriguez and Brett Gardner's first choice, of course, would have been to play in Game 2 Saturday night as the Yankees still needed a victory to clinch home-field advantage for Tuesday night's wild-card game.

But having played in Game 1 of the doubleheader, a 9-2 loss to the Orioles, neither was in the lineup for the nightcap, by decree of manager Joe Girardi. The Yankees lost that one, too, 4-3.

"I'll be ready to pinch hit," A-Rod said after going 0-for-4 in Game 1. "Whatever Joe wants. I'm ready to go whenever he needs me." He had a pinch-hit single in the ninth in Game 2.

Gardner discussed the possibility of playing both ends of the doubleheader on Friday after that night's game was postponed because of rain. That conversation didn't get far.

"He said at this point in the season and where we're at with the weather and the field conditions and everything, he wanted to be sure to try his best to keep everybody healthy,'' Gardner said. "I think we understand what's at stake, but also he's trying to be smart about it. I respect that."

Gardner and A-Rod certainly were not singled out in that regard. Second baseman Rob Refsnyder was the only player to start both games.

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"As I told you, the one thing that's probably more important than home-field advantage is the health of our players," Girardi said between games. "I'm not going to risk that."

Nova blunt

Ivan Nova, who allowed five runs, eight hits and three walks in 52/3 innings, took the loss in Game 1, which dropped him to 6-11 with a 5.07 ERA in 17 starts after returning in late June from Tommy John surgery.

It was the final start of the season for Nova, who is a long shot to make the postseason roster.

How would he evaluate his season? "Bad," Nova said. "I lost 11 games. I didn't pitch the way I would like to pitch."

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Many pitchers who undergo Tommy John surgery experience command issues in the season they return -- something Girardi has mentioned repeatedly, doing so again Saturday -- but Nova wouldn't hear of it.

"I'm not talking about Tommy John anymore. I have over and over,'' Nova said. "I didn't pitch well in the regular season. I gave up a lot of hits, home runs and runs and lost a lot of games. I was struggling the whole year."

Noel a hit

Pinch-running specialist Rico Noel, a Sept. 1 call-up who is a near lock to make the postseason roster because of his speed, received his first career big-league at-bat in the ninth inning of Game 1 and reached on an infield single.

"Unbelievable," he said. "Obviously, I've been waiting for this day since I was a kid. Getting a hit out of the way in my first at-bat is as good as it gets. No nerves, just excitement."