When the ball went up off the bat of Chris Davis, the American League's leading home run hitter, Ivan Nova was upset, but only for an instant. Nova was reassured about where it would come down because he saw the disappointment on Davis' face and he knew it had been a good pitch. Most of all, Nova is an expert on ups and downs.
The successes and struggles that he has experienced as a young Yankees pitcher have made him better and turned him into the club's August Ace. He completed a stellar month with his finest game: his first shutout in a 2-0 victory over the Orioles Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
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Nova (8-4) finished the month with a 4-0 record and a 2.08 ERA in six games after allowing only three hits -- all mere singles -- with one walk, two hit batters and five strikeouts. All of that remained intact after Davis uppercutted a towering fly to the rightfield warning track with one on and one out in the ninth.
"I was a little scared,'' Nova said. "But I saw the face he made after he hit the ball and I knew he wasn't really happy.''
What made it a touch excruciating was the fact that rightfielder Ichiro Suzuki briefly looked toward the stands, as if that was where the ball was going to land. "I was just having fun,'' Ichiro said. "I'm a professional and it's good to get things exciting.''
A second consecutive win over the Orioles made the Yankees' week more fun and exciting. They moved a half-game ahead of the Orioles in the wild-card race and trail the Rays by 31/2 games for the second wild card after Tampa Bay's second straight one-run loss to Oakland.
That still isn't a terrific spot, which highlights Nova's role. While some other starters have lost their way, he has hit his stride.
This followed demotions to the minors and a triceps injury after he was the Yankees' No. 2 starter in the playoffs two years ago. Ups and downs like that can make a person tougher.
"This is not a place where you come and get 32 starts and they say, 'No matter what happens, you're going to get 32 starts,' '' Joe Girardi said. "It's different for young kids to come up here than a lot of other places. He has pitched in big games and had success, but he has also struggled. He has done both and now he knows what he has to do.
"He did the right thing. He went and he found himself.''
Nova said that when he was rehabbing his injury early this season, "it gave me a chance to think about what I want to do and what I want to be.'' He has learned how to keep his chin up and his fastball down. The latter allows him to get out of jams by inducing ground balls, and it is a devastating complement to his sharp curveball. The Orioles looked exasperated.
"He's not focused on the past, he's focused on the next hitter and getting the guy out. It's inspiring to me,'' catcher Chris Stewart said. "I'm just glad he's got his head on right and he's doing what he needs to do. He is helping this team out tremendously right now.''
All the help Nova needed came from Robinson Cano, who had an RBI double in the first against Scott Feldman (11-10) and hit his 25th homer of the season against lefthander Troy Patton in the eighth.
The latter shot provided a cushion, convincing Girardi to keep Nova in the game. "I know Mariano [Rivera] was in the bullpen waiting,'' Nova said, "but that made me feel really good that he has confidence in me.''
Nova's self-confidence survived the fright of Davis' fly ball and the rightfielder's head fake. "Yeah,'' Ichiro said, "I kind of felt bad about that.''